President Biden has again succeeded where his one term, twice impeached predecessor failed, brokering an agreement between longtime Middle Eastern adversaries Israel and Lebanon in what has been called “a historic achievement.”
The decades-long fight over their maritime border, which has sparked tensions and fears of war, seems to have gotten a reprieve. Leaders in both Beirut and Jerusalem praised the deal – a first on the demarcation between the two nations.
“This is an historic achievement that will strengthen Israel’s security, inject billions into Israel’s economy, and ensure the stability of our northern border,” Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid said in a statement Tuesday.
Trump and Netanyahu couldn’t get a deal done; Biden and Lapid did. The resulting agreement was hailed as "historic" by both Israel and Lebanon. https://t.co/pUbNqvgquK
— Max Boot 🇺🇦🇺🇸 (@MaxBoot) October 17, 2022
President Biden made congratulatory calls Tuesday to Lapid and Aoun, “who confirmed the readiness of both governments to move forward with this agreement,” according to a White House statement. Biden hailed the deal as a “historic breakthrough in the Middle East.”
Lebanon’s refusal to acknowledge the rightful existence of Israel has been a point of contention in the region, and Israel’s natural gas production uncomfortably close to its maritime boundary with Lebanon caused Hezbollah’s leader, Hassan Nasrallah, to threaten an attack.
The “down to the wire” deal is promising news considering that just a month ago Jerusalem Post reported, “Nasrallah says that Hezbollah has “sent a very strong message, far from the media, that [Israel] faces a problem if it begins extraction from the Karish field before Lebanon obtains its rightful demands.”
The Iranian-allied terrorist group threatened to attack a new offshore gas facility that Israel is readying for production in what Lebanon claims are disputed waters. The group has launched drones toward the gas field more than once, including three unmanned aircraft that was shot down by Israel in early July, The Washington Post reported.
Amos J. Hochstein, the presidential coordinator for energy security, was instrumental in sealing the deal. The former Senate staffer and energy industry executive told Boot of his brokering the unprecedented compromise, that “This is probably the hardest thing I’ve ever done.” The Times of Israel blogger, Daniel Shapiro wrote:
President Biden’s special envoy, Amos Hochstein, a veteran of some of the frustrating earlier rounds, came with a different approach. Armed with unique knowledge of energy production protocols in other regions, he suggested each side focus not on what they were giving up, but on what they most needed.
Shapiro cited Hochstein’s “creative diplomacy,” for getting things done.
Israel’s government, led by centrist Prime Minister Yair Lapid, made concessions on the boundary line. Lebanon’s government, led by President Michel Aoun, recognized Israel’s control of a three-mile stretch of water close to shore and agreed to pay Israel its share of the proceeds from gas taken from the Israeli side of the Qana Field, which lies in both countries’ exclusive economic zones.
One person none too happy is former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who referred to the deal as a “disgraceful surrender.” Not surprising from the leader booted by the Israeli people. But those on both sides of the Israel/Lebanon border acknowledge this as a win-win.
According to Boot:
Israel’s security establishment is firmly in favor of the deal not only because it will help safeguard Israel’s natural gas fields but also because it will help bolster the Lebanese government and economy. Israel does not want a failed state next door.
But perhaps the biggest takeaway from the deal is the recognition by Lebanon, that Israel does indeed exist.
In addition to its economic and security gains, under the agreement, Israel achieves something it never has before: effective Lebanese recognition of the security border Israel asserts in the first 5 kilometers from the shore with the buoy line in its territorial waters,” said Daniel Shapiro. Adding, “Lebanon will deny this, but it is very clear that this line is now accepted as the status quo and will be treated as Israel’s legitimate maritime border by the international community.”
In a time where it almost seems easier to wage war than peace, the Biden administration gets it. This is a historic moment, not just for the Middle East, but the international community as a whole. Preventing the economic collapse of Lebanon and facilitating recognition and acceptance of Israel’s maritime border by a decades-long enemy is the progress we need in an all too volatile world.
Original reporting by Max Boot at The Washington Post.
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