The arrival of the Energean offshore rig at the Israeli “Karish” natural gas field is shaking Lebanon. The country is going through a dire and deteriorating economic crisis and can only enviously look at Israel as it expands its natural gas production, while internal disagreements and political instability prevent Lebanon from doing the same.
To understand the issue a little more, I will take you back to a post published on this channel on the 4th of February of this year, describing Lebanon’s decision to toughen its positions before resuming negotiations with Israel on their shared maritime border. Lebanon sent an official letter to the UN replacing point 23 with point 29 as the new official Lebanese claim (tripling the size of the “disputed maritime territories” as can be seen in the map).
This new Lebanese claim angered the American mediators and Biden’s envoy Amos Hochstein, who successfully talked the Lebanese government into pulling back their letter to the UN, to the surprise of the Lebanese negotiation team.
So what’s Lebanon’s position now?
The best answer to this question is hesitant. The Lebanese feel that the natural gas train has already left the station while they are still arguing on the platform. However, there is only so much that Lebanon can do at the moment, and both the Lebanese government and Hezbollah are careful with their statements.
Lebanese Prime Minister Mikati made the following statement following a conversation with Lebanon’s President Michel Aoun: “I spoke with the president, and we agreed to ask the American mediator to come to Beirut and discuss the issue of completing the negotiations on the maritime border.”
What is Hezbollah’s position on the matter?
Hisham Safieddine, the second most powerful member of Hezbollah, said the following yesterday: “The Lebanese government must declare its official borders so that the Lebanese, their army, and the ‘resistance’ can gather behind them together.”
Hezbollah senior official Naim Qassem reiterated Safieddine’s remarks today in an interview with Reuters:
“Hezbollah’s decision is clear. If the state (Lebanon – Abu Ali) says that Israel has violated the Lebanese borders, we will respond.
We are not setting an ultimatum. Lebanon is above all, and it sets the path. We are subject to the state in such decisions. ”
In other words, Hezbollah is telling the Lebanese government to get its story straight (“If you decide that the border crosses at point 29, we are with you”). Hezbollah distances itself from determining where the border is.
It is interesting to see how expectations from the Lebanese public of Hezbollah weigh heavily on the organization. Israel is “stealing Lebanese gas”. Hezbollah, “the shield of Lebanon”, is expected to protect its natural resources. The organization is afraid to take an unequivocal position that will force it into an unfavorable situation.
This pushed Hezbollah’s correspondent, Ali Shaib, to publish the following tweet yesterday:
“The resistance does not work for anyone, and it will not respond whenever others want. The resistance acts wisely and based on a careful assessment of the situation…”
To summarize, the new Israeli offshore rig is in disputed waters only because of a recent change in the Lebanese claim (point 29 instead of point 23).
It seems like Hezbollah isn’t keen on being involved and is waiting to see what the Lebanese government decides to do.
For now, the Lebanese government is hoping to resolve the issue by completing negotiations with Israel (asking the American mediators to return to Beirut).