US lauds ‘historic’ border deal between Lebanon and Israel

“It provides security and safety for Israel. It provides economic opportunity and hope for Lebanon. It means that the Lebanese waters could soon very well see rigs and infrastructure,” a senior Biden administration official said.

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The Biden administration on Tuesday heaped praise on the agreement between Lebanon and Israel to resolve their yearslong maritime border dispute.

“Today, after really months of US mediation... the government of Israel and government of Lebanon agreed to formally end their maritime boundary dispute and establish a permanent maritime boundary between them,” a senior US administration official said.

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“The importance of this [agreement] is that both parties get what is really critically important for them,” the official, speaking on condition of anonymity, told reporters.

The official added: “This agreement is historic for a number of reasons. One, it is the first boundary demarcation by mutual agreement between Israel and Lebanon. It provides security and safety for Israel. It provides economic opportunity and hope for Lebanon. It means that the Lebanese waters could soon very well see rigs and infrastructure.”

US President Joe Biden said he spoke with Lebanon’s president and Israel’s prime minister earlier in the day, adding that the two leaders confirmed the readiness of both governments to move forward with this agreement. “It is now critical that all parties uphold their commitments and work towards implementation,” Biden said in a statement from the White House.

The US president also thanked US officials, current and past, for their years of diplomatic efforts to reach this deal. “Persistent US diplomacy, paired with the openness of Israeli and Lebanese leaders to negotiate, consult, and ultimately choose what was in the best interests of their people, led to this.”

Less than a week ago, the deal appeared to have once again hit stumbling blocks. But US diplomatic efforts, led by Special Presidential Coordinator Amos Hochstein, saw Lebanon and Israel reach a compromise.

On Monday night, Hochstein presented Lebanon with a final draft agreement that included revisions sought out by Beirut and proposed a compromise on the Israeli reservations.

Lebanese and Israeli officials welcomed the US draft and said it would now be sent for government approval in their respective capitals.

Iran-backed Hezbollah, which has threatened to attack Israel if it started exploration in the Karish gas rig before a deal was struck with Lebanon, is not opposed to the current agreement, a source close to the group said.

In the last few days, the London-listed energy group Energean started pumping gas in Karish as part of a test.

According to a source familiar with Hochstein’s phone calls, the US diplomat spoke to Lebanese officials on Friday night to stress that this was just a test and not exploration.

The senior administration official said the agreement was a win for both sides, citing the deal as giving the people of Lebanon hope, “something that is desperately needed.” The official said Lebanon could “soon very well see rigs and infrastructure just as there is to the south and Israeli waters.”

As for Israel and critics of the agreement, the official said it would ensure that the Israeli government maintained its security mechanisms and the infrastructure needed to protect its shoreline. This was in an apparent reference to the buoys, which, if removed, could provide a direct vision of the Israeli coastline.

The official also said Israel would be compensated for any share of hydrocarbons on its side of the new boundary.

Directly responding to critics, including former US and Israeli officials, the administration official said: “They were in power; they did not reach a better deal. And when those so-called better terms for either side were on the table, they ended up not concluding an agreement. This isn’t a win-lose agreement.

“Having a prosperous Israel, side by side a prosperous Lebanon, is the best security guarantee for both countries. Israel only benefits from a prosperous Lebanon,” the official said. “This agreement is within line of the [US] commitment for Israel’s security.”

Read more: After working ‘day and night,’ US set to resolve Lebanon-Israel border dispute

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