Israel and Lebanon reach landmark maritime agreement

Israel and Lebanon have agreed to a draft deal to resolve a decades-old dispute over the control of an eastern stretch of the Mediterranean Sea in a major diplomatic breakthrough between two neighbors that technically remain at war and have no direct official relations.

If ratified by both governments, the deal is expected to avert the immediate threat of conflict between Israel and Hezbollah militants in Lebanon, after fears of escalation if negotiations fell apart, and to make it easier for energy companies to extract gas from the eastern parts of the Mediterranean Sea.

The deal would allocate drilling rights at one contested gas field to Lebanon and confirm Israeli control of another field to the south, safeguarding new sources of energy and income for both countries.

Officials and analysts hope the deal will give Israel more security, allow Lebanon greater leeway in the future to salve its crippling energy and financial crises, and provide Europe with a potential new source of gas amid energy shortages caused by the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

The office of the Lebanese president, Michel Aoun, said in a statement on Tuesday morning that the draft deal satisfied “Lebanon, meets its demands and preserves its rights to its natural resources.”

Minutes later, the Israeli prime minister, Yair Lapid, said in a statement: “This is a historic achievement that will strengthen Israel’s security, bring billions into Israel’s economy and ensure stability on the northern border.”

President Biden later called the deal “a historic breakthrough in the Middle East,” one that was “setting the stage for a more stable and prosperous region, and harnessing vital new energy resources for the world.”

The deal settled a decades-old dispute about the location of the two countries’ exclusive economic zones in the eastern Mediterranean, demarcating where both countries have the sole right to extract resources.

Lebanon also recognized Israel’s existing control of a three-mile-wide stretch of water closest to their shared coast, while Israel allowed Lebanon the right to drill in a previously contested gas field that stretches between the Israeli and Lebanese economic zones.

In exchange, Israel will receive compensation for any gas taken from the section of the field, known as Qana, which is within the Israeli zone. And Lebanon has renounced any claims to a second gas field nearby, Karish, allowing Israel to proceed with the extraction of gas.

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