Lebanon Border Dispute
Lebanon Border - The subject on everyone’s mind in Israel today is an impending new deal with Iran, a Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) 2.0, if you will, that hopes to prevent Iran from achieving the capability to build nuclear weapons. Negotiations have been on-again-off-again for nearly 18 months, but both sides are showing signs of a willingness to compromise. One of the concerns of the deal-in-the-works is that it does not address Iran’s proxies in the Middle East, perhaps the most significant of which is Lebanon.
Lebanon is essentially ruled by the Hezbollah, a Shi’a organization with strong ties to Iran. The Hezbollah, led by Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah, has been a thorn on Israel’s northern border for over three decades. While the last shooting war with the Hezbollah was fought in 2006, the threat of war is always on the minds of Israeli decision makers: The Hezbollah has a modern, well-trained army. They are armed with more than 100,000 rockets, some of which have precision guidance capabilities.
This is no JV team.
This is why avenues that lead to compromise of any sort with the Hezbollah are so important. One of these avenues is the Israeli-Lebanese maritime border. While the land border between the two countries is fairly agreed upon, other than in a location in the Golan Heights called the “Sheba’a Farms,” the maritime border has remained in dispute since 2007. Israel’s claimed northern border lies to the north of Lebanon’s claimed southern border and the two countries simultaneously claim sovereignty to an area of about 860 square kilometers (330 square miles). The source of the dispute stems from how the maritime border is determined: According to the Israelis, it is a line drawn at a ninety degree angle to the coastline at the border and according to the Lebanese, it follows the continuation of the land border when it reaches the sea. The two claimed borders are shown below:
The grey shaded areas below the border lines denote natural gas fields, discovered over the last decade in Israel’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ). These gas fields are changing the economicy in the area and have already turned Israel into a fossil fuel giant. Israel is not only in the process of moving to natural gas power herself, but is also in advanced discussions with neighboring countries to build a network of pipelines to provide Europe with natural gas. All of these gas deposits lie to the south of the Lebanese claimed southern border. In 2019, a massive natural gas field called “Karish” was discovered. Karish, while smaller than the Leviathan and Tamar gas fields to its south, is estimated to hold between 2-3 trillion cubic feet of natural gas. While to the Israelis, Karish is one of many gas fields, to the Lebanese, it is a game-changer. The positive effect on the Lebanese economy cannot be overstated. And here is the rub: The northern part of Karish is located in the disputed area between the Israeli and Lebanese borders.
In May, 2022, Israel signed a $2 billion deal with a European company called Energean Power to extract gas from Karish. Energean estimated that extraction could begin as early as September. In response to this announcement, the Hezbollah threatened the destruction of the gas rig were it to begin extracting gas. To back up its threat, the Hezbollah sent three unarmed drones to film the gas rig. The drones were shot down by Israeli antiaircraft missiles.
The U.S. has been mediating the maritime border dispute for more than a decade. After the Hezbollah ratcheted up the level of tension, the U.S. ratcheted up her level of mediation, sending Special Advisor for Energy Security Amos Hochstein to meet with government officials and with the European companies who will be extracting the gas. A compromise seems to have been reached in which both Israel and Lebanon will establish gas rigs five kilometers from each other on opposite sides of the border. According to the Jerusalem Post,
The idea is to create a “balance of terror” in which either side will hesitate to attack the other’s rig lest its own rig come under attack.
But just in case the Hezbollah does decide to attack an Israeli gas rig, Israel is prepared. Israel recently announced operational capability of C-Dome, a maritime version of Iron Dome, on her new Sa’ar-6 corvettes that are patrolling the Mediterranean Sea. (C-Dome cannot be integrated onto a gas rig as according to the Geneva Convention, it turns the gas rig into a valid target). The hope is that the Hezbollah will add the word “compromise” to its lexicon and finally choose prosperity over dogma.
Wishing you a quiet week,