According to an Israeli news agency, direct negotiations between Lebanon and Israel may start in the near future to resolve differences on the joint use of a gas field in the Eastern Mediterranean Sea. The value in dispute is a deposit with a capacity of more than 25 trillion cubic meters.
Negotiations during back-and-forth trips to Beirut and Tel Aviv throughout 2020 were conducted by US Assistant Secretary of State for the Middle East David Schenker by personal order of President Donald Trump. And he seems to have managed to coerce both sides into a direct dialogue.
The earliest information on the outcome of sea shelf geological exploration appeared in 2009. The deposit was discovered at the junction of economic zones of Cyprus, Syria, Lebanon and Israel. However, the maritime border between the economic zones of Lebanon and Israel appeared undemarcated, entailing disputes between the two states.
It should be noted that both countries have deep territorial divisions over 13 land border points. The disputed issue of the maritime economic zone in the Eastern Mediterranean, where natural gas deposits are located, concerns the 860 square kilometers.
In 2011, the Americans, who mediated the territorial dispute settlement, proposed their own project to demarcate economic zone borders. It assumed the transfer of 55% of the disputed territory to Lebanon and 45% – to Israel. The deal fell through due to a sharp political escapade by representatives of the Shiite Hezbollah organization in the government and parliament of Lebanon, who accused Washington of unilaterally supporting the Israelis in this matter.
According to Israeli sources, David Schenker managed to convince Lebanese President Michel Aoun to start direct negotiations with the Israelis on the maritime border demarcation. The head of the Lebanese state is said to have already instructed parliament speaker Nabih Berri to hold a discussion with the factions so as to get legislative permission to negotiating with Israel, which Lebanon is at war with.
Leading American experts on the Middle East believe that the time for signing the document between Lebanon and Israel has been chosen effectively. Beirut has not been able to overcome the government crisis for several years, which, along with sanctions imposed against the country and neighboring Syria, has led to a drop in Lebanon's financial and economic system. The Beirut seaport explosion claimed the lives of over 200 people and entailed multibillion-dollar damage due to the destruction of infrastructure, administrative and residential buildings.
Even before the tragic event, Lebanon experienced a severe lack of foreign investment, which worsened the food and fuel and power supply to the economy and population. The national healthcare system is still unable to cope with the spreading coronavirus. Financial assistance from leading Arab and European states cannot cover even a tenth of the necessary state expenditures to restore the former standard of living for the Lebanese. Mass demonstrations over the authorities' performance have swept across the country.
Israel believes that the Netanyahu government will agree to the talks with Lebanon and is ready to accept American proposals as regards fixing the maritime economic zone border with Lebanon. Tel Aviv needs at least some kind of agreement with its northern neighbor to get things moving in bilateral relations. At the same time, the Israelis are unlikely to demand the inclusion of any political obligations in their possible agreement with Lebanon, limiting themselves to formal economic interests alone.
To date, Israel has normalized relations with four Arab states: Egypt (1979), Jordan (1994), the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain (September 15, 2020). The government of Sudan has allegedly expressed readiness to establish diplomatic relations with Israel. The parties are trying to mend fences over the location of the Sudanese diplomatic mission, with Khartoum insisting on Tel Aviv.