Lebanon sticks to guns on maritime deal amid reported US pressure to drop demands

Lebanon seemed to be sticking firm to its stance on the proposed maritime deal with Israel despite reported pressure from the Biden administration to drop some of its demands.

The Hezbollah-linked Al-Akhbar newspaper on Friday quoted a Lebanese official telling US mediator Amos Hochstein that “Lebanon does not intend to retract its comments” on the maritime deal.

The unnamed Lebanese official added that “it’s on the US to fulfill its promises and manage the issue with Israel.”

Despite indications earlier this week that the deal was close to being sealed, it has since appeared to falter as Lebanese negotiators insist on certain changes that have been rejected by Prime Minister Yair Lapid.

According to the Kan public broadcaster, the Biden administration was pressuring Lebanon to drop some of its demands as Hochstein remained in direct contact with both sides.

In comments to the broadcaster, an Israeli official described the efforts as an attempt to resuscitate the talks themselves.

Energean’s floating production system (FPSO) at the Karish gas field in the Mediterranean Sea. (Energean)

Although the deal’s exact points of contention remain unconfirmed, Al-Akhbar reported Tuesday that Beirut did not agree to recognize Israel’s buoy-marked boundary — which Jerusalem unilaterally placed five kilometers off the coast of the northern town of Rosh Hanikra in 2000 — as an international border.

The report also claimed that Beirut was against the idea of ​​demarcating a land border as part of the agreement and maintained that the issue must instead be reserved for discussions with the United Nations.

Health Minister Nitzan Horowitz, a member of the high-level security cabinet, insisted Friday that Israeli activities in the gas fields would continue despite the uncertainty over a deal.

“Israel is working on the construction of the gas field located in its territory… production will begin according to the schedule of the extraction companies and that will be very soon. Those who make threats and all kinds of intimidation — from our perspective it makes no difference,” Horowitz told Kan.

He also held out hope that a deal could soon be reached, saying there is a “chance” of signing the agreement before Israel’s elections on November 1. Horowitz added that “there are large political interests in both countries that increase the chances [of a deal] in the very near future.”

Health Minister Nitzan Horowitz speaks during a press conference in Tel Aviv, February 14, 2022. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)

On Thursday, as the maritime deal stalled, Defense Minister Benny Gantz placed IDF forces on alert after holding a situation assessment with military chief Aviv Kohavi.

“The defense minister directed the IDF to prepare for a scenario of escalation in the north, both offensively and defensively, given the developments in the negotiations on the maritime border,” a statement from Gantz’s office said.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report

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