Israel and Lebanon have reached a historic agreement, leaders from each side said separately on Tuesday, settling a years-long maritime border dispute involving major oil and gas deposits in the Mediterranean.
The United States is trying to broker a deal between neighboring countries over the 860 square kilometer (332 square mile) area of sea that has been disputed for years.
It includes the Karish oil and gas field and an area known as the Qanaa prospect, which are expected to fall into Israeli and Lebanese waters respectively under the deal. Israel said it would start extracting oil and gas from Karish and exporting it to Europe shortly.
“The final version of the offer is satisfactory for Lebanon and meets its requirements and has preserved Lebanon’s rights to this natural wealth,” Lebanese President Michel Aoun said in a statement hours after receiving the final offer. of Israel through the American mediator Amos Hochstein.
Aoun said he hoped the deal, which has yet to be signed, will be announced “as soon as possible”.
Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid said, “This is a historic achievement that will strengthen Israel’s security, inject billions into the Israeli economy and ensure the stability of our northern border.
The draft agreement respects all economic and security principles set forth by Israel, Lapid said.
Israel’s prime minister will convene the security cabinet on Wednesday, followed by a special government meeting, he said.
Lebanese officials have said the agreement does not mean that a “treaty” will be signed with Israel and that this agreement is not a step towards normalizing relations between the two countries, which are technically at war.
Earlier on Tuesday, Lebanese negotiator and deputy speaker of parliament Elias Bou Saab told CNN that “Lebanon felt that [the deal] takes all of Lebanon’s demands into consideration and we think the other side should feel the same.
Meanwhile, Israel’s chief negotiator Eyal Hulata said: “All our demands have been met, the changes we asked for have been corrected. We have protected Israel’s security interests and we are on the way to a historic agreement.
On Tuesday, Lebanese Energy Minister Walid Fayyad also said French energy company Total, which holds the contract to explore Lebanese waters, would start work on the Qanaa prospect “immediately”.
The talks gained momentum after London-based oil and gas exploration company Energean arrived in June to begin development of the Karish field on Israel’s behalf. Although the Energean ship is well south of the disputed area, part of the field is in an area claimed by Lebanon.
Hezbollah, the powerful Iran-backed Lebanese Shia militia, had threatened Energean’s gas platform if it started producing gas before a deal was reached.
On Tuesday, Hezbollah declined to comment when contacted by CNN, but the Iran-backed armed group has previously said it would abide by any agreement signed by the Lebanese government.
The historic agreement does not affect land borders, but it is likely to ease security and economic tensions for both nations.
Lebanon’s interim Prime Minister Najib Mikati said on Thursday that an agreement “will save us from a definitive war in the region”.