Israel-Lebanon Negotiations over Offshore Gas Fields Are Bound to Fail

June 20, 2022 | Eran Lerman
About the author: Eran Lerman is vice-president of the Jerusalem Institute for Strategic Studies and teaches Middle Eastern and Islamic Studies at Shalem College.

Last week, the U.S. envoy for energy affairs Amos Hochstein traveled to Beirut to negotiate the delineation of the maritime border between Israel and Lebanon. A successful agreement would, in principle, allow both nations to exploit their respective offshore natural-gas reserves. Eran Lerman explains why these efforts are unlikely to succeed, especially given Lebanon’s habit of increasing its demands whenever a compromise is in sight:

Despite its recent electoral setback, Hizballah and its allies still have a firm grip on most of the levers of power in the country.

Negotiations went nowhere last year after Lebanon inexplicably abandoned its previous claim based on “Line 23” . . . and demanded to expand its claim southwards to “Line 29.” The recurrent pattern of asking for more and more has made a mockery of the ongoing attempt to resolve the problem diplomatically. . . . Israel [was willing to accept Line 23 in 2011, and] thus consented to a division of the disputed area, most of which was offered to Lebanon.

In October 2020, . . . a Lebanese team led by a military officer met with an Israeli delegation led by the director of the Ministry of Energy. A U.S. representative attended the meeting. As it turned out, the Lebanese delegation did not talk about the resolution of the previous dispute but staked out a series of new unsubstantiated claims, unrelated to anything but the apparent expectation that they could once again blackmail Israel and the United States into further concessions.

Choosing conflict will not deter the corporations that already have an established presence in Israel. It will, however, frighten away all who may still consider the prospect of investing in Lebanon’s gas fields.

As for Hizballah, its leader Hassan Nasrallah declared in May that he is suspicious of any negotiations with the U.S., and strongly opposes any dealings “with Hochstein, Frankenstein, or any other Stein.” His meaning is not hard to discern.

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