Photo Credit: US Navy
Israeli naval forces and the Ticonderoga-class guided missile cruiser “USS Monterey” conduct maritime security operations in the eastern Mediterranean Sea, March 15, 2021.

US State Department envoy Amos Hochstein, a former Obama administration diplomat, has been appointed to mediate maritime border talks between Israel and Lebanon over natural gas exploration rights in the eastern Mediterranean, according to Axios.

Lebanon is demanding the addition of 1,400 square kilometers (540 square miles) to the exclusive economic zone claimed by Beirut.

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The move angered Israel, which accused Lebanon of “blowing up” negotiations on their common maritime border.

The dispute between the two countries has held up hydrocarbon exploration in the gas-rich area of the eastern Mediterranean.

Israel has been pumping natural gas from its existing offshore fields – Tamar and Leviathan, among others – for years. Lebanon, however, has yet to begin such a venture, which could help relieve the deep financial crisis wracking the country.

“We can confirm that Amos Hochstein will resume his role as US mediator for the Israel-Lebanon maritime border talks which he held during the Obama administration” from 2014 to 2017, a State Department spokesperson told the news outlet.

Serving as the special State Department envoy to international energy affairs, Hochstein advised then-Vice President Joe Biden on global energy issues.

“He looks to build upon the strong work done by Ambassador John Desrocher over the last year,” the spokesperson added.

Hochstein served as energy envoy under Secretaries of State Hillary Clinton and John Kerry. His name was on Biden’s short list of candidates for US Ambassador to Israel.

Born and raised in Israel by American parents, he moved to the United States as a young adult. Prior to his career at the State Department, Hochstein worked in Congress.

Hochstein, who succeeds Desrocher as US State Department senior adviser for energy security, is expected to visit Israel and Lebanon later this month.

Desrocher, appointed by then-President Donald Trump, has been trying to mediate talks between Jerusalem and Beirut since October 2020 – the first such talks in 30 years – but negotiations broke down soon after they started.

He is now set to become the charge d’affaires at the US Embassy in Qatar, Axios reported.

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Hana Levi Julian is a Middle East news analyst with a degree in Mass Communication and Journalism from Southern Connecticut State University. A past columnist with The Jewish Press and senior editor at Arutz 7, Ms. Julian has written for Babble.com, Chabad.org and other media outlets, in addition to her years working in broadcast journalism.