US envoy visits Lebanon border to explore talks on formalizing disputed frontier

Amos Hochstein, who brokered deal to set maritime line, says he will hear out Israeli view after meeting with Lebanese officials to see ‘if we have a window of opportunity’

Amos Hochstein, a senior adviser to US President Joe Biden, speaks to journalists at Beirut Rafik Hariri International Airport after his meeting with Lebanese officials, in Beirut, Lebanon, August 31, 2023. (AP/Bilal Hussein)
Amos Hochstein, a senior adviser to US President Joe Biden, speaks to journalists at Beirut Rafik Hariri International Airport after his meeting with Lebanese officials, in Beirut, Lebanon, August 31, 2023. (AP/Bilal Hussein)

BEIRUT, Lebanon (AP) — A senior US envoy visiting Beirut said Thursday that Washington is looking into possibilities for solving a decades-old border dispute between Lebanon and Israel, a year after he brokered a deal on the maritime frontier between the two nations.

Amos Hochstein, a top advisor to US President Joe Biden, also expressed disappointment with Lebanon’s reluctance to implement reforms amid the country’s historic economic meltdown. He spoke to reporters at the end of a two-day visit to Lebanon during which he met with the caretaker prime minister, the Parliament speaker and other officials.

Hochstein last year brokered a maritime border deal between Lebanon and Israel paving the way for gas exploration in the area, in what many hope will eventually help pull Beirut out of its economic crisis. Lebanon and Israel have formally been at war since Israel’s creation in 1948.

Asked whether he is coming to mediate between Lebanon and Israel over their disputed land border, Hochstein said that he listened to the views of the Lebanese government, then visited the border area “to learn more about what is needed in order to be able to achieve an outcome.”

Hochstein added that he now plans to hear the Israeli view “and to make an assessment if this is the right time and if we have a window of opportunity to be able to achieve it.”

He added that the US “always supports what enables stability and security.”

Indian UN peacekeepers with their armored personnel carrier, right, stand guard next to a giant poster that shows Hezbollah fighters and the Al Aqsa Mosque with Arabic and Hebrew words reading: “We are coming,” near the barbed wire that separates Lebanon from the Shebaa Farms. April 16, 2014. AP/Hussein Malla)

Shebaa Farms and the Kfar Chouba hills were captured by Israel from Syria during the 1967 Six Day War and were effectively annexed to Israel with the Golan Heights in 1981. The Lebanese government claims the region, which has been the source of decades of tensions.

The countries have no agreed-upon border, instead maintaining a ceasefire line known as the Blue Line as the de facto frontier.

Hochstein’s visit coincided with a vote at the UN Security Council in New York to renew the mandate of the peacekeeping force deployed in southern Lebanon, where the Hezbollah terror group maintains a foothold, threatening Israel.

United Arab Emirates Ambassador to the UN Lana Nusseibeh, the Arab representative on the council, said “tensions on the Blue Line are at a level unseen since the 2006 war.”

A Lebanese soldier points his rocket-propelled-grenade toward an Israeli Merkava tank across the border, Friday, June 9, 2023. (AP Photo/Mohammad Zaatari)

Over the past year, on a daily basis, Hezbollah “has been making a mockery of Security Council resolutions,” she said. “It has erected concrete military outposts and observation towers, conducted military drills with live fire and prevented UNIFIL’s freedom of movement while brazenly attacking peacekeeping forces.”

Lebanon has been in the grips of its worst economic and financial crisis in its modern history, rooted in decades of corruption and mismanagement by the country’s political class. Despite the fact that the crisis has been ongoing for nearly four years, the country’s ruling class has been resistant to reforms demanded by the international community in order to release billions of dollars in soft loans and investments.

Earlier in August, an offshore drilling rig arrived at its destination in the Mediterranean Sea off Lebanon’s coast and will start operations soon.

“I am optimistic. I’m always optimistic about what is possible in Lebanon, but I’m also impatient about the pace of reform,” Hochstein said. “I’m disappointed by all the lost opportunities.”

Lebanon’s caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati, right, receives the US Special Presidential Coordinator for Global Infrastructure and Energy Security Amos Hochstein in Beirut on August 30 2023. (ANWAR AMRO / AFP)

He added that “as Lebanon takes steps to put the country on the path toward economic growth and peace, it can count on the US for continued support.”

He added that the Lebanese people are hoping to see a president elected and a fully functioning government take office. Lebanon has been without a president since October of last year and is currently run by a caretaker government.

“The absence of empowered leaders has been detrimental to the country and it’s the people of Lebanon who have been paying the greatest price for the impasse,” he said.

Most Popular
read more: