An Israeli Navy vessel patrols in the Mediterranean Sea at the maritime border between Israel and Lebanon, off the southern Lebanese town of Naqoura, on September 4, 2022. (File photo: AFP)
Published: 10 October ,2022
The citizens of the state of Israel were informed this past weekend that the caretaker government of Prime Minister Yair Lapid was about to trade several hundred square kilometers of Israel’s potentially resource-rich exclusive economic zone for what it said would be a form of “international recognition” of a line of apparently under-recognized buoys. In other words, after dickering endlessly back and forth with American negotiators for a decade about whether Israel is rightly entitled to 45 percent or 55 percent or even 100 percent of the disputed maritime area, the percentage that Israel finally agreed to is 0 percent.
But within a few days, Lapid’s big buoy birthday party was put on ice. Predictably, the Lebanese informed the American mediator they would not recognize the buoy line as Israel’s border. With Israel’s election three weeks away, the Biden administration quickly affirmed that it still believes “a lasting compromise is possible,” and comments from the Lebanese suggested confidence Washington will deliver for them.
The main explanation for the hurry to conclude one of the region’s less urgent-seeming negotiations by any means necessary can be found in Washington D.C., which has appointed itself as champion of the Hezbollah-run pseudo-state formerly known as Lebanon. The Biden administration had described concluding the gas deal as a “key priority,” and President Biden had personally impressed on Lapid at the end of August the need to conclude the deal within weeks. The fact that the Iranian people are being mowed down in the streets for expressing their hatred of the regime apparently makes the American goal of flooding an Iranian proxy with cash even more urgent.
As reports about the deal came out in the Lebanese media, it didn’t take long for former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu to take aim at his rival: “Yair Lapid shamefully surrendered to [Hezbollah leader Hassan] Nasrallah’s threats.” Netanyahu’s former energy minister, Yuval Steinitz, who briefly partook in negotiations on the maritime border when the Trump administration made its own ill-advised attempt to revive this track in 2020, described the deal as “by definition a surrender to blackmail.” Steinitz added that the ratio of the deal ended up being 100-0 in Lebanon’s favor.
The Israeli press meanwhile was torn between wonderment at the awfulness of the deal and the horror of agreeing with Bibi, who, after all, is Israel’s true national enemy. Yet despite their thriving in-group hatreds, some Israeli national security reporters could not help but ask incredulously: Could it really be that the government was simply giving in to Hezbollah’s threats to target Israel’s energy infrastructure if the terror group didn’t get what it wanted?
Reporters in the new Team Obama American-Israeli media messaging complex run from Washington, D.C. immediately launched a campaign to counter the idea that Israel had in any way been pressured by America—or that Lapid had scored anything other than a historic negotiating victory. An unnamed official who briefed the press on background denied that Israel had completely caved to Lebanon’s demands, “pointing to the fact that Beirut had demanded that Line 29 further south be the border. This would have given Lebanon parts of the Karish gas field.” Of course, this is false. The Lebanese border line, Line 23, is the only one Lebanon has deposited with the United Nations.
“We want to weaken Hezbollah’s influence in Lebanon. That is why we are trying to advance the negotiations on the maritime border,” said Israeli national security adviser Eyal Hulata last month, explaining why Hezbollah would now be granted its own gas rig in the Mediterranean in de facto partnership with the French oil giant Total.
Others hyped as a major win the inclusion of a small buffer zone near the shore at Naqoura that extends some 5 kilometers out to sea before it ties back to Line 23, which Israel has agreed to concede to Lebanon. The area is marked by a line of buoys that Israel had placed in the water after its withdrawal from Lebanon. Barak Ravid, the leading Israeli mouthpiece of the Obama-Biden policy team since his days shilling for the original failed U.S.-Iran nuclear deal, relayed that government officials said that anchoring the “line of buoys” was “very important” because “in the last 20 years the Israeli military operated along this line unilaterally and the Lebanese side had international legitimacy to challenge it.” The deal, however, “will allow Israel to treat it as its northern territorial border.”
Needless to say, the Lebanese side disagreed entirely with the Israeli reading, and amended the U.S. proposal to reflect its position. Lapid, who played up the buoys as his major achievement, then rejected the amendment even as his government publicized its desire to conclude the deal. By Sunday, the U.S. mediator was ready with an updated proposal.
What emerges quite clearly from this weird little incident is that stabilizing and investing in Iranian regional “equities” is at the core of the Obama-Biden doctrine of Realignment. It’s how you achieve “regional integration”—by showcasing your ability to press your allies to sacrifice their own security in order to prop up Iranian assets, even as the Iranian people are being mowed down in the streets.