Netanyahu Pledges to "Neutralize" Israel-Lebanon Maritime Border Deal

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Published Oct 31, 2022 9:23 PM by The Maritime Executive

Former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has promised to "neutralize" a newly-signed maritime border deal with Lebanon if he regains office in elections tomorrow. Israelis will be voting in an effective referendum on his candidacy for the fifth time in three years, and if he should win, his pledge to upend the deal casts uncertainty over the future of two offshore gas fields off the coast of Haifa.  

Regarding the new boundary demarcation with Lebanon, "I will behave as I did with the Oslo Accords,” Netanyahu told Army Radio (Galatz) on Monday. He referred to the 1990s-era diplomatic agreement that supported the creation of an independent Palestinian state, an outcome which he has opposed for much of his career. He emphasized that under his watch, the Oslo Accords “were not canceled, they were neutralized."

The maritime boundary deal negotiated by caretaker Prime Minister Yair Lapid is signed and completed, and it puts a longstanding border dispute to rest. Under the final terms, Israel keeps control of the Karish gas field, which is just now coming online. The demarcation line hands control of the adjacent Qana gas field to Lebanon, though Israel will keep an equity stake in its development and will receive dividend payments from the Qana lease operator, TotalEnergies. Lapid has said that the deal will “strengthen Israel’s security, inject billions into Israel’s economy, and ensure the stability of our northern border.”

As part of the agreement, the Biden administration has provided written security guarantees to Lapid's government, assuring American support in the event that Lebanon (or the powerful Lebanese militant group Hezbollah) should breach the deal. The letter of assurance also promises to support efforts to keep profits from the Lebanese side from ending up in Hezbollah's hands.

Netanyahu's Likud party vehemently opposes the border agreement and has described it as "surrendering" to Hezbollah. Likud and its far-right coalition partners would need 61 seats in Israel's 120-seat parliament to take control, and the latest polling shows that they could be within reach.