Israel and Lebanon. Maritime Dispute Boundaries

The visit of Ambassador John Dishnet, the US mediator in the negotiations to demarcate the maritime border between Lebanon and Israel, to Beirut in mid-June, brought this sensitive issue to the fore once again. Leaked information about meetings with Lebanese officials indicates that American pressure is pushing Beirut not to place any preconditions on the negotiations. So John Dishnet hinted that Lebanon could get no more than 860 square kilometers in the disputed area, instead of the 2,293 square kilometers claimed during the last round of negotiations in May 2021. This demand prompted the angry Israelis to withdraw from the Conversations without announcing their end. .

But between the prolonged economic and social collapse, and the undeclared US blockade borne by the Gulf states and European countries historically concerned with the situation in Lebanon, the latter is in a state of extreme weakness in the face of the Israeli enemy. In addition, the latter is backed by American power, which is a very impartial mediator between Lebanon and Israel.

Fatal error

The issue of the maritime borders between Lebanon and Israel emerged in 2006, when Cyprus wanted to demarcate its borders with these two countries as a prelude to exploiting its oil and gas resources in the Mediterranean, due to the overlapping of sediments. The then Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Siniora entrusted the British Hydrographic Institute (United kingdom Hydrographic Bureau) to draw maps based on the course of the armistice line with Israel (1949), the southern border with historic Palestine as defined in the Bole and Newcombe Agreements (1923) and approved documents deposited with the United Nations by Lebanon and Israel.

However, according to a study conducted by the Lebanese army at a later time, the British Institute’s starting point is wrong, because it was based on ground points that became a point of contention between Lebanon and Israel after the Israeli withdrawal. Southern Lebanon in 2000. Only Beirut realizes this mistake – which costs 1,430 square kilometers of its maritime border – after initialing an agreement with Cyprus, but its final adoption requires a double signature from the president and prime minister.

Once the error is corrected, the Lebanese experts send the maps to the House Energy and Water Committee for approval, to be submitted to the United Nations until the maritime border demarcation is officially approved. But Lebanon was going through at that time (between 2006 and 2008, then between 2014 and 2018) a period of political vacuum, and the file is still in the drawers.

Compass pointing to Ankara

At least this is the official version. However, an unofficial version assures that this is not just censorship, but above all sectarian and economic calculations on the part of billionaire businessman Najib Mikati, Prime Minister in 2013. In fact, talking about the Cypriot border is inappropriate. Not without mentioning Turkey. However, according to an official source who wishes to remain anonymous, « Mikati’s relationship with the Turks was excellent for two reasons. First, the latter assumed the highest position of responsibility a Sunni could hold in Lebanon. Subsequently, Mikati had significant economic interests in Turkey, investing in various sectors of the country such as telecommunications, energy, real estate, finance, etc. »

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Turkey, for its part, takes a bleak view of the Cypriot drilling in an area where it believes it has rights. Therefore, Mikati stops signing the agreement on the pretext that his government resigned in 2013, and it cannot adopt such an agreement. But, the source adds, « In fact, Erdogan had promised not to conclude the agreement with Cyprus ». Meanwhile, Nicosia signed an agreement in July 2011 to demarcate its border with Israel, ignoring the need to consult Lebanon in advance, as required by maritime law.

The following year, Israel would like to start a survey at the level of the common border with Lebanon. The United States sends the first mediator, Frederick Charles Hof. The latter means to the Lebanese that the disputed area is now 860 square kilometers instead of the 2,293 square kilometers that Lebanon estimated after correcting the error. proposed a compromise called Hof line »: 55 % of the disputed area (860 km2) will go to Lebanon and 45 % for Israel. A private US company will operate the common area and distribute the income according to the agreed ratio. Lebanon rejects this proposal, which is biased and favorable to Israel. Then the Americans sent Amos Hochstein in 2014, which repeats Hof’s proposal, and Lebanon again rejects it.

The essence of Nabih Berri

The situation remained as it was until the outbreak of the Lebanese uprising on October 17, 2019, when the Americans intensified pressure on Nabih Berri, who was responsible for the case. Taking advantage of the political vacuum that the country experienced between 2012 and 2016, Berri – the only president of the three presidents (President of the Republic, Speaker of Parliament, and Speaker of Parliament) who remained in office – demarcated the border. The border file, which was to be subject to the exclusive powers of the President of the Republic or the Prime Minister in accordance with Article 54 of the Constitution. It continues to monopolize the file despite the election of Michel Aoun to the presidency in 2016.

Washington thinks it’s time to snap up.” win over ”, even if that means contentment with the symbol of direct negotiations between the Lebanese and the Israelis, attributed to President Donald Trump on the eve of the American elections. But the Lebanese refuse to negotiate while they are in such a weak position, fearing concessions not only on wealth in hydrocarbons, but also a form of de facto normalization that direct negotiations with Israel could force, if it were in their hands. Of the Lebanese negotiators reconciled with the Americans. The future will prove them right.

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After his election in 2016, Michel Aoun is trying to take over the case from Nabih Berri. Sources say that he sent several envoys for this purpose, but Berry refuses, hoping to reach « Historic achievement ». Aoun then appealed to Hezbollah, his common ally with the Speaker of Parliament. But Hassan Nasrallah, the party’s secretary-general, takes a stand for Berri, whom he considers more assertive than Aoun’s toward Israel.

Nabih Berri is at the center of negotiations with successive American envoys, from Frederick Hof to Assistant Undersecretary of State David Schenker in October 2020. Eager to avoid the sanctions the Americans have imposed against him and his family, he ends with an announcement of 1he is October 2020 framework agreement For indirect negotiations with Israel before that. pass it » File to Michel Aoun.

risk of normalization ?

Quickly, this framework agreement was formally adopted by Israel, Washington, the United Nations, and the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL).1. In Lebanon, the transfer of management of the file to President Michel Aoun is particularly welcomed by the Christian parties. The latter took the initiative to welcome the American mediation.

Five rounds of negotiations followed. In the first, the Israelis violate the framework agreement by expanding the composition of their delegation that goes from military to military – technical and political, with the Director-General of the Energy Ministry and diplomatic advisor Benjamin Netanyahu in particular. Aoun responds to the Israeli initiative by expanding the Lebanese delegation in particular with two civilian experts. However, by agreeing to negotiate with a delegation that includes an Israeli politician and diplomat, the Lebanese president indirectly takes a step toward normalization with Israel.

Worse still, the President of the Republic wants the delegation of negotiators to include official figures such as the Director General of the Presidency of the Republic and a representative of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs at the suggestion of his son-in-law, former Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil. It will require a joint statement from Hezbollah and the Amal Movement, Nabih Berri’s party, in which Michel Aoun warns against such a step until the latter backs down.

towards the status quo

The official position of Hezbollah, which Hassan Nasrallah repeatedly mentioned in his various speeches, can be summarized as follows: This issue is in the hands of the Lebanese state and we will adopt its position. But it is clear that the party does not want these negotiations on the pretext that the balance of power is not in Lebanon’s favor.

This explains Lebanon’s decision to raise the negotiation ceiling by claiming an area of ​​2,293 square kilometres, i.e. the area extending from Line No. 1 – that the wrong demarcation of the border with Cyprus – even the line no. 29, which would have been described by Nabih Berri « A bargaining line, not a law ».

In fact, Beirut arouses the resentment of the Israelis and the Americans, who, in turn, raised the ceiling of their demands on line 310, which exits from Sidon, located 35 km south of Beirut. A laughable request According to Lebanese experts, Israel does not have any document proving its rights in this field, unlike Lebanon.

During the next two rounds of negotiations, the Israelis insisted that the negotiations be confined to an area of ​​860 square kilometers. However, Lebanon has not yet updated its maps with the United Nations to be able to claim more space. Even if the government of Hassan Diab has resigned since August 2020 and deals with current affairs, the President of the Republic had the possibility to issue an exceptional decree in order to settle this situation. Almost two hundred also signed during the Department of Current Affairs. But after American pressure, Aoun refused, under the pretext of the absence of a government and the need for national consensus on such a question.

On instructions from the President of the Republic, the Lebanese delegation refuses to hold the sixth session « Because of the preconditions set by Tel Aviv to limit the negotiation to an area of ​​860 square kilometers ».

Negotiations stopped without either side declaring their conclusion. Lebanon, like Israel, is waiting for regional and international developments to seize the appropriate opportunity to resume negotiations: American elections, changing the priorities of the new administration, negotiations on the nuclear agreement between the United States and Iran, Iranian elections, the formation of a new committee. The Israeli government… Among all these changes that took place at the right time, only the formation of the Lebanese government remains pending, and the country does not know the bottom of the abyss into which it is still falling.

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