When looking at the recent deal on the Karish gas field and the demarcation of maritime borders between Lebanon and Israel, we must look beyond gas to understand why Iran’s allies are circumventing any talk of political concession in the media. The dimensions of the deal go even deeper than the wells expected to be drilled in the waters of the Mediterranean following the agreement.
Had it not been for higher interests, neither Egypt, not Jordan, nor the Palestinian Authority would have made and maintained peace with Israel. The Camp David Accords and Taba Agreement with Egypt, the Wadi Araba deal with Jordan, and the Oslo Accord with the Palestinian Authority all have economic appendices that still serve as a guarantee of those agreements till this very day.
However, unlike the Taba, Wadi Araba, and Oslo deals, the Karish agreement is not a peace deal with Israel – not yet at least. Economically speaking, it may just be the only prospect capable of stopping Lebanon’s collapse. Lebanon gave vague figures, but initial estimations stand at around $5 billion in annual revenues for Lebanon, nearly a third of the government’s budget. While undoubtedly helpful, such revenues cannot save Lebanon from its $90 billion debts.
Lebanon may gain significant revenues like Israel’s in the same gas field, but the drilling may also prove to be a deception, as was Bahrain’s case with Qatar in maritime gas fields.
Will the Karish deal incite Damascus to jump aboard the negotiation train and shut its last disputed border with Israel? Ironically, Syria had been the first to put demarcation on the table of negotiations with Israel. In his last days, President Hafiz al-Assad had travelled to Geneva and given his preliminary approval, only for the Israelis to breach the fresh understanding under the guise of detecting changes on the horizon. Indeed, al-Assad passed away two months after the negotiations on Lake Tiberias and the distribution of its resources. A Canadian company was selected for execution, under the sponsorship of then-US President Bill Clinton.
Figures familiar with the deal said that it met most of Damascus’ demarcation demands and Israel’s security and military demands. This moment would have changed the history of Syria and the region had it not been for fate.
Yet, unlike Lake Tiberias, fate might work for Lebanon’s Karish. The negotiations, kicked off two years ago, sponsored hastily by France and mediated upon Paris’ request by the Americans to try and persuade Israel, have now concluded at a time that is probably not coincidental. The two coming weeks bear significant shifts in both countries: the term of Yair Lapid’s government in Israel is set to end on November 1st, while in Lebanon, the term of Michel Aoun’s presidency is, theoretically, set to end a day before, on October 31.
The keenness exhibited by the pro-Iran Resistance Axis in Lebanon on fast-tracking the negotiations with Israel might seem bizarre, but the reason becomes clear if we scratch the surface: Karish has oil, Tiberias only had fish.
Aside from oil, gas, and dollars, the political aspect is also key. This is an agreement concluded with Israel on matters of borders and sovereignty, and the bilateral relation will be managed based on common revenues with French, Russian, and other banks and oil companies. This deal will put Lebanon’s gas in the same regional equation as Egyptian oil, Jordanian waters, and Palestinian economic self-government. In other words, this will also be a relation based on higher interests. In the past, ties with Israel had no value; today they’re worth $5 billion.
In its pursuit of oil and dollars, Hezbollah gave priority to Karish over the Chebaa Farms, despite the rejections voiced by the party and Tehran previously.
The current economic crunch is the worst Hezbollah has faced since Iran founded the party forty years ago. The economic and financial sanctions that the West has imposed on Hezbollah have cornered it from every which way, threatening its operations and activities, from smuggling tobacco to drug trafficking. Following the bans on transfers and Tehran’s exclusion from Western banking systems, Iran weaned the party from an annual half a billion dollars in financial support, instead resorting to sending oil cargo for Hezbollah to sell in Lebanon to fund its activities. But even these were sanctioned by Washington and inflicted sanctions on the Lebanese government.
The Karish agreement may be the lifeline for a besieged Hezbollah. The irony is that it was none other than Israel and the United States that extended it this time.