Israel rejected revisions requested by Lebanon to a US-brokered border demarcation proposal on Thursday, throwing into doubt years of diplomatic efforts to enable the enemy countries to extract gas at a disputed Mediterranean prospect.
The draft deal, which has not been made public, had a warm preliminary reception from the Israeli and Lebanese governments. But amid domestic opposition in both countries, Lebanon asked a US envoy for several amendments.
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Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid “was updated on the details of the substantial changes Lebanon is seeking to make in the agreement and instructed the negotiating team to reject them,” an Israeli official said.
According to Israeli media, a main sticking point was over recognition of a line of demarcation buoys Israel has strung out to sea from its coast. Lebanon worries over any action that may connote formal acceptance of a shared land border.
Beirut has also balked at Lapid’s assertion Israel will earn partial royalties from Lebanese extraction in the Qana prospect.
A Lebanese official said his government awaited formal notification on Israel’s new position. “We want to know if they rejected the amendments fully or in part, or if they just have their own comments on it,” the official said.
Gas rig plan
Israel has been preparing to activate a gas rig, Karish, that it says is outside Qana. Lebanon’s Iran-backed Hezbollah made veiled threats about Karish that lent urgency to the talks.
Israel previously presented the draft deal with Lebanon, if finalized, as securing Karish. But on Thursday, it changed tack.
“Israel will produce gas from the Karish rig as soon as it is possible to do so,” the Israeli official said. “If Hezbollah or anyone else tries to damage the Karish rig or threaten us -the negotiations on the maritime line will stop immediately.”
Defense Minister Benny Gantz further hardened the tone, saying in a speech that “the state of Lebanon will bear a heavy military price” if Hezbollah attacks.
There was no immediate response from Hezbollah.
With the centrist Lapid serving in a caretaker capacity ahead of a November 1 election, the political opposition had demanded parliamentary ratification for the deal.
Lapid’s main rival, conservative ex-Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had argued that the deal could benefit Hezbollah.
Despite its own misgivings, Lebanon is keen for any sign of relief from a spiraling economic crisis, and its president, Michel Aoun, wanted to secure gas rights before he steps down at month’s end, according to political sources.
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