Caretaker Lebanon PM says maritime deal with Israel safe even if Netanyahu wins

Lebanon's caretaker PM Najib Mikati said the maritime delineation deal signed with Israel would remain in force. PHOTO: REUTERS

BEIRUT - Lebanon’s caretaker prime minister Najib Mikati on Wednesday said that US guarantees would protect a maritime border deal with Israel should Israel’s conservative former premier Benjamin Netanyahu win a majority in elections

Netanyahu had threatened to “neutralise” the agreement, which came into force last week after years of indirect US-brokered talks that finally set out the sea boundary between the two enemy states after decades of hostility.

The United States pledged to remain a guarantor of the hard-won agreement. The mediator for the talks, US energy envoy Amos Hochstein, told reporters in Lebanon that he expected the deal to withstand both contentious Israel elections and a transition to a new president in Lebanon.

Mr Mikati appeared confident, too, telling Reuters in a phone interview from the Arab League Summit in Algiers that he was “not afraid” for the fate of the deal.

“We’re not afraid of a change in the authorities in Israel. Whether Netanyahu wins or someone else, no one can stand in the way of this (deal),” he said.

He said the United States “as the sponsor of this deal” would be responsible for its smooth implementation.

Though limited in scope, the maritime delineation deal is expected to pave the way for more exploration for energy resources by both Israel and Lebanon.

Officials in both countries, as well as the US, had said that the economic interests would be enough to deter any disruption of the deal by either side.

Netanyahu had slammed the deal as possibly benefitting Lebanese armed group Hezbollah, which has fought Israel.

With roughly 70 per cent of votes counted, Netanyahu’s conservative Likud and its likely religious and far-right allies were on pace Wednesday to control a majority in Parliament. REUTERS

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