07/05/2022, 20.55
LEBANON – ISRAEL
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Lebanese government slams Hezbollah drone operation over disputed field

by Fady Noun

For the first time, a government official has openly attacked the pro-Iranian party over its three unarmed drone operation towards Karish, a gas field disputed with Israel. Meanwhile, the US continues to mediate talks to trace maritime borders between the two countries.

 

Beirut (AsiaNews) – For the first time, Lebanon publicly disavowed a recent military initiative by Hezbollah.

Lebanese Minister of Foreign Affairs, Abdallah Bou Habib, who is considered close to President Michel Aoun, said on Monday that the government deemed "unacceptable" Hezbollah’s three-drone reconnaissance mission over the Karish gas field last Saturday off the coast of Israel.

Lebanon’s top diplomat described the action as interference in the indirect, US-brokered talks between Lebanon and Israel over their shared maritime borders.

“Any act that falls outside the framework of the state's responsibility and the diplomatic track within which negotiations are taking place is unacceptable and exposes [Lebanon] to unnecessary risks," Foreign Minister Abdallah Bou Habib said after meeting Prime Minister Najib Mikati.

Although Boh Habib did not mention Hezbollah, he clearly was referring to the Shia-dominated group, which acknowledged sending “three unarmed drones [. . .] towards the disputed Karish (gas) field for reconnaissance missions”.

For media linked to the pro-Iranian party, the action was a “warning" to Israel and Energean PLC, which owns the platform and is expected to develop the field.

The three drones that approached Israel's economic zone were shot down, Israel said.

Behind the State

“The ongoing negotiations held with the assistance of the US mediator (Amos Hochstein) are in advanced stages," said Bou Habib. calling on “all parties” to “show a spirit of high national responsibility and abide by what was previously declared as to that everyone, without exception, are behind the state in the negotiations process.”

“I expect that we will reach an agreement on the demarcation of the maritime border with Israel in September,” Bou Habib noted on the sidelines of a meeting of Arab foreign ministers held on Saturday in Beirut.

The optimism expressed by the Lebanese official follows a statement by US State Department that reads: “Following discussions with Lebanese counterparts earlier in the month, Senior Advisor for Energy Security Amos Hochstein held conversations last week with Israeli counterparts on their maritime boundary. The exchanges were productive and advanced the objective of narrowing differences between the two sides. The United States will remain engaged with parties in the days and weeks ahead.”

Negotiations between Lebanon and Israel began in October 2020 but were suspended in May 2021 due to disputes over the Karish gas field.

Tensions rose in early June with the arrival at the field of a platform for gas prospecting and extracting chartered on behalf of the Jewish state. Lebanon has challenged Israel's right to start gas extraction before the border dispute was settled.

In Israel, newly appointed Prime Minister Yair Lapid reacted on Sunday to Hezbollah's drone reconnaissance mission, by saying: “The Lebanese government must guarantee that Hezbollah will not obstruct”.

“Hezbollah is continuing its acts of terror and damaging Lebanon’s ability to reach a maritime border agreement [with Israel],” Lapid added, noting that “Israel will continue to defend itself, its citizens and its infrastructure.”

In Lebanon, the Lebanese Forces (LF) party welcomed the foreign minister’s stand. “It turns out that even governments dependent on Hezbollah can no longer ignore its actions,” the LF press office said in a statement.

By contrast, Hezbollah's media slammed Bou Habib's for his words, saying that Lebanon is "buckling under US pressure”.

Waiting time

Whatever the case may be, Lebanon is waiting for Israel to respond to the official position given directly by President Michel Aoun to US mediator Amos Hochstein, on his last visit to Beirut.

President Aoun is demanding the entire Qana gas field to be allocated to Lebanon in exchange for the Karish field going to Israel.

For some, Hezbollah's drone operation was “pre-emptive” in nature to possible bad news from Israel, namely that the Jewish state plans to reject the Lebanese offer, claiming that according to border lines filed with the UN, it is entitled to 25 per cent of the production from the Cana gas field, which is partly within its exclusive maritime zone.

According to other sources quoted in the press, the official Lebanese reaction came the day after an unofficial warning against the possibility of extending US economic sanctions against Hezbollah, deemed a terrorist organisation by Washington, to include Lebanon’s exclusive economic zone, therefore making it impossible for Lebanon to develop oil and gas resources within its own economic zone.

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