Israel, Lebanon sign maritime border deal in rare diplomatic feat

Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid (third from left) at a cabinet meeting to approve a deal setting a maritime border between Israel and Lebanon on Oct 27. PHOTO: REUTERS

BAABDA/JERUSALEM - Israeli and Lebanese leaders signed a landmark US-brokered agreement on their maritime boundary on Thursday.

The move marks a diplomatic departure from decades of hostility and opened the way to offshore energy exploration.

The deal was signed separately by Lebanon’s President Michel Aoun in Beirut and by Israel’s Prime Minister Yair Lapid in Jerusalem, and went into effect after the papers were delivered to mediators.

Lapid hailed the deal as a “tremendous achievement” and Lebanese negotiator Elias Bou Saab said it marked the beginning of “a new era” between the two sides, which nevertheless remain technically at war.

In the US, President Joe Biden hailed as “historic” the agreement that comes as Western powers clamour to open up new gas production and reduce vulnerability to supply cuts from Russia.

“Both parties took the final steps to bring the agreement into force and submitted the final paperwork to the United Nations in the presence of the United States,” Biden said in a statement.

The accord removes one source of potential conflict between Israel and Iranian-backed Lebanese group Hezbollah and could help alleviate Lebanon’s economic crisis.

After meeting Lebanon’s speaker of parliament Nabih Berri, Amos Hochstein, the US envoy who mediated the negotiation, told reporters he expects the agreement to hold even amid changes in leadership in both countries.

Hochstein referred to both upcoming elections in Israel on Nov 1 and the end of Aoun’s term on Oct 31, saying the accord should be kept up “regardless of who is elected very soon as next president of Lebanon”.

An offshore energy discovery - while not enough on its own to resolve Lebanon’s deep economic problems - would be a major boon, providing badly needed hard currency and possibly one day easing crippling blackouts.

While Lebanon and Israel have both voiced satisfaction with having settled a dispute peacefully, prospects for a wider diplomatic breakthrough appear remote.

“We have heard about the Abraham Accords. Today there is a new era. It could be the Amos Hochstein accord,” Saab said, referring to the 2020 US-brokered normalisation of ties between Israel and the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain.

Lapid said: “It is not every day that an enemy country recognises the state of Israel, in a written agreement, in view of the international community,” Lapid told his Cabinet in broadcast remarks.

Aoun however has insisted that a deal will lead to a normalisation of ties between the two states. AFP, REUTERS

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.