An Israel-Lebanon Gas Deal Would Only Benefit Hizballah

Sept. 30 2022

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.

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More about: Hizballah, Lebanon, Natural Gas, U.S. Foreign policy

Will Tensions Rise between the U.S. and Israel?

Unlike his past many predecessors, President Joe Biden does not have a plan for solving the Israel-Palestinian conflict. Moreover, his administration has indicated its skepticism about renewing the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran. John Bolton nevertheless believes that there could be a collision between the new Benjamin Netanyahu-led Israeli government and the Biden White House:

In possibly his last term, Netanyahu’s top national-security priority will be ending, not simply managing, Iran’s threat. This is infinitely distant from Biden’s Iran policy, which venerates Barrack Obama’s inaugural address: “we will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist.”

Tehran’s fist is today otherwise occupied, pummeling its own people. Still, it will continue menacing Israel and America unless and until the internal resistance finds ways to fracture the senior levels of Iran’s regular military and the Revolutionary Guards. Netanyahu undoubtedly sees Iran’s growing domestic turmoil as an opportunity for regime change, which Israel and others can facilitate. Simultaneously, Jerusalem can be preparing its military and intelligence services to attack Tehran’s nuclear program, something the White House simply refuses to contemplate seriously. Biden’s obsession with reviving the disastrous 2015 nuclear deal utterly blinds the White House to the potential for a more significant victory.

To make matters worse, Biden has just created a Washington-based position at the State Department, a “special representative for Palestinian affairs,” that has already drawn criticism in Israel both for the new position itself and for the person named to fill it. Advocated as one more step toward “upgrading” U.S. relations with the Palestinian Authority, the new position looks nearly certain to become the locus not of advancing American interests regarding the failed Authority, but of advancing the Authority’s interests within the Biden administration.

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More about: Benjamin Netanyahu, Iran, Joe Biden, U.S.-Israel relationship