Lebanon and the Israeli occupation regime reached a maritime border agreement this October, after decades of disputes and US-mediated negotiations. Precipitating the agreement were months of heightening tensions, which almost broke out into military escalation between the Zionist regime and the Lebanese resistance led by Hezbollah, over rights to the natural gas fields within the disputed area. On October 11, both parties approved a US-brokered final draft that includes Lebanon’s revisions and concessions on Israeli amendments. This agreement represents a partial victory for Lebanon, which finally has sovereignty over some of its gas fields. But there is a dangerous catch: the deal stipulates that the United States will be able to interfere in all forthcoming gas exploration projects in the region. The deal’s implications thus extend well beyond the Mediterranean Sea, as the world sinks deeper into energy and economic crises fueled by sharpening neoliberal decay and imperialist proxy wars.
A tense dispute
Since 2010, the Israeli occupation’s claimed northern maritime border line (MBL) has overlapped with Lebanon’s southern border. At first sight, this conflict may seem like an arbitrary disagreement over lines on a map, but because the MBL delineates each party’s rights to contested offshore gas fields, it has steep implications. The two fields of the most interest are the Karish and Qana fields, which have been shown to contain substantial natural gas reserves. (Credit: Creative Commons / Al Jazeera) According to the Israeli occupation, the disagreement stems from the different demarcation methods used. It claimed that the Karish field in the Mediterranean belongs within Israeli-drawn borders. But expansionism and theft are part and parcel of the Zionist project. Coupled with the global energy crisis, the Israeli occupation’s interest in profiting from more stolen gas is only increasing. The European Union has pledged to “break free of our dependency on Russian fossil fuels“, and hopes to do so with the help of stolen Palestinian and Lebanese gas. The Zionist regime is dependent on exploiting the Karish field, in particular, to be able to increase its exports to Europe. In June, tensions resurfaced following the arrival of an Israeli-contracted vessel from Energean Power, a London-based oil and gas well drilling company. Energean sought to start extraction in the disputed Karish gas field. Indirect negotiations between Lebanon and the Israeli occupation were subsequently relaunched, mediated by US senior energy adviser Amos Hochstein. In July, Hassan Nasrallah, secretary-general of Hezbollah, threatened the Israeli occupation with retaliation if it successfully began extracting gas from the Karish field in September. By September, Hezbollah had sent several surveillance drones and mobilized troops to its southern border, with Nasrallah stating that “the hand that touches our wealth will be severed.” That same month, the Palestinian resistance also joined the call for energy sovereignty, launching drone aircrafts and “freedom boats” toward the sea lane of the Gaza Strip demanding the right to their gas and an end to the occupation regime’s blockade.
The deal that had been proposed was accepted by the Zionist entity, but Lebanon was opposed to legitimizing the “line of buoys” — a three-mile line of floating buoys installed by the occupation regime following its withdrawal from most from Lebanon in 2000 — as an official international border. Lebanon also objected to a clause in the draft agreement giving the Zionist regime “veto” power over the beginning of natural gas exploration in the disputed area. On October 6, the Israeli occupation’s prime minister, Yair Lapid, rejected Lebanon’s requested modifications and began preparing soldiers for potential escalation at the northern border. Zionist regime officials repeatedly insisted they would move ahead with plans to extract gas from the Karish field, which they were already testing, even if no deal was reached with Lebanon. “If Hezbollah or anyone else tries to damage the Karish rig or threaten us — the negotiations on the maritime line will stop immediately,” Lapid warned. For a few days, war seemed like a possibility. But the parties were pushed to compromise with the imminence of the November 1 Israeli elections and the expiration of the Lebanese president’s term at the end of October.
The final draft of the maritime deal was leaked by the Israeli regime press on October 12, and is now being contested by the Lebanese parliament. Lebanon won some modifications and lost some concessions to the US and the Israeli occupation. Among their losses is the recognition of the “line of buoys.” This was the Zionist regime’s “main security interest and demand in the talks,” according to Western media, because it sets the precedent for further expansion into Lebanese territory, and legitimizes the precarity of Zionist regime borders, of which the line of buoys is a poignant illustration. Lebanon’s compromises are more than likely influenced by their severe economic crisis and historic inflation rates. Almost 80% of the Lebanese population and 88% of Palestinian and Syrian refugees live below the poverty line as of May 2022. In a speech given the evening of the agreement’s announcement, Nasrallah insisted that Hezbollah stands by the Lebanese state, but stressed that the resistance would maintain its readiness for war until the agreement is actually signed. While some see Hezbollah’s support for the MBL deal as an impending tacit recognition of the Zionist entity as a legitimate state, the party reaffirmed its commitment to the Palestinian struggle for liberation: “To us, our sea extends to Gaza, and when Palestine is liberated, we will not disagree with our Palestinian brothers on maritime borders demarcation,” Nasrallah declared. Importantly, the agreement stipulates that “each party [including operators] shall share data on all currently known, and any later identified, cross-MBL resources with the United States,” and that “the United States intends to share this data with the Parties [after receipt].” The involvement of the United States as a permanent supervisor of operations and mediator of negotiations and decisions is a concerning development, because it guarantees imperialist intervention in Lebanese operations within the agreement’s Lebanese borders. Another clause in the draft states that the legal entities holding Lebanese rights to hydrocarbon resources in Block 9 will include “one or more reputable, international corporations that are not subject to international sanctions, that would not hinder US continued facilitation, and that are not Israeli or Lebanese corporations.” Presumably, the international corporations that will benefit from this deal will have US and Zionist regime interests in mind.
More than maritime borders
The MBL agreement has already become a source of infighting for Zionist regime fascists before their November 1 elections. Lapid’s rival, Benjamin Netanyahu, accused him of “having completely folded in the face of Hassan Nasrallah’s threats” and trading away the Zionist entity’s stolen natural resources to Lebanon. Netanyahu said he won’t consider himself beholden to the deal if he returns to office, so the celebration of this “historic agreement” could very well be temporary. This fallout is a broader indication of the internal contradictions in the Zionist project, whose so-called “moderate” and extremist parties alike share the ultimate goal of settler-colonial expansion, land theft, and ethnic cleansing; they simply disagree on how to best approach this endeavour. Netanyahu framed the deal as “capitulation,” and would rather vie for absolute control of the gas fields, whereas Lapid framed it as a precedent for normalization and a historic agreement between two entities that do not share diplomatic relations. The colonialist Zionist project’s commitment to the total annexation of and control over Palestine remains, so even in a deal that is partial to its interests, any concession is a threat.
(In this tweet below, the leader of the fascist Kahanist party Otzma Yehudit, Itamar Ben-Gvir, claimed occupation regime leaders “abandoned Israel’s security and surrendered to Hezbollah,” and he pledged to “fix” it.)
The US’ role in the mediation shows the significance of this maritime dispute for the entire region and world, especially as the current energy crisis intensifies. Already drained by its proxy war against Russia in Ukraine and its new cold war on China, the North American interest is to resolve the dispute and avoid further escalation, while of course protecting the interests of its Zionist proxy, the main harbinger for US imperialism in the region. Competition for energy resources is escalating globally, and the advantages given to the Israeli occupation by this agreement clarify its interest in being a major fuel provider in the future. By June 2022, the Israeli occupation’s output of stolen gas had increased by 22%, and will likely increase further as it plans to sell more stolen resources to Europe after signing this deal. The presence of permanent US mediation and surveillance, and the insistence that both Lebanese and Zionist regime parties must agree to any further changes to the deal, hint at the direction in which this gas agreement may be heading: increased gas exports by the Israeli occupation to Europe, and therefore a solid position in the fossil fuel industry that extends beyond sales to Jordan and Egypt. But at the same time, Palestine is seeing a historic moment of unified resistance, in what may potentially be called the Third Intifada, with uprisings across the occupied West Bank and Jerusalem, a unified general strike extending to the 1948 territories, and calls of solidarity from the besieged Gaza Strip. The Zionist regime’s desperation for natural gas is reflective of its broader problem: the imperialist West is in decline, and a multipolar world is emerging, at the forefront of which will be the Palestinian revolution for liberation.
By Tara Alami & Calla Walsh (Originally Published in Multipolarista)