Jerusalem and Beirut are reportedly close to concluding a U.S.-brokered agreement to delineate their maritime border, so that both can exploit their respective offshore natural-gas and oil reserves without conflict. While on its face the deal would seem a win for both countries—as well as for gas-starved Europe, eager for any additional sources of fossil fuels—Tony Badran argues that its primary beneficiary will be Hizballah, which has been threatening to attack Israel’s Karish gas field if its demands are not met:
While the details of a final agreement have not been made public, the satisfied assessments from the Lebanese side indicate that Washington has managed to extract critical concessions from Israel that meet Hizballah’s demands. First, Israel will cede the entire disputed area of 854 square kilometers of Mediterranean waters. It will also cede the whole of a prospective gas field that protrudes into Israeli waters beyond Line 23, which Lebanon has filed as its border.
The key Hizballah condition was for production at Karish to be frozen until the consortium led by [the French fossil-fuel corporation] TotalEnergies had agreed it would begin drilling for gas in Block 9 of Lebanon’s exclusive economic zone, which Israel now will have conceded in full. The Biden administration sought to satisfy that condition, meeting with French officials and TotalEnergies executives to discuss the start of operations.
If a border agreement is finalized, the Biden administration will have set a terrible precedent by leveraging Hizballah threats to secure Israeli concessions that enrich and empower a U.S.-designated terrorist organization. The administration will also have turned Hizballah into a significant player in eastern Mediterranean energy, enshrining the group’s partnership with France and its investments in Lebanon. The precedent might even extend beyond Lebanon as now Hizballah is encouraging Hamas to follow its lead with gas fields off the coast of Gaza.