Israeli-Lebanese Maritime Dispute: A 12 Month Outlook

The Israeli-Lebanese maritime dispute is a long-standing issue over offshore natural gas fields. Competing claims over natural resources complicate an already hostile relationship. The two countries appear to be on the verge of a breakthrough deal. Even as they reach an agreement, Hezbollah is increasing the level of threatening rhetoric against Israel. As Gaza periodically flares up, Lebanon may prove to be a difficult task to handle for the new Israeli administration during a time of political uncertainty in Tel Aviv. 

KJ-1: It is highly likely that Israel and Lebanon will commit to a maritime agreement in the next 12 months.

  • The current dispute revolves around the Karish oil field. The area intersects ‘Line 29’, Lebanon’s proposed demarcation [source]. 
  • The dispute reignited in June after an Israeli floating gas platform entered into the disputed area. Energean, a joint British and Israeli company, owns the rig [source].
  • Lebanon needs a resolution to the present dispute in order to secure private investment in Lebanese oil fields [source].
  • France has stepped in to provide additional mediation in the dispute [source].
  • US envoys involved in the talks expressed optimism that a deal is imminent. Lebanon’s Parliament Speaker, Nabih Berri, similarly expressed a positive outlook [source].
  • Several energy experts indicate that Lebanon made a number of concessions on the total area it is entitled to under maritime law [source]. 

KJ-2: There is a realistic probability that Hezbollah will not launch sustained attacks against Israel in the next 12 months.

  • Lebanon’s Prime Minister-designate, Najib Mikati, criticized Hezbollah for risking the country’s safety by threatening Israel [source].
  • Hezbollah’s leader, Hassan Nasrallah, backtracked on previous threats by suggesting he is now more ambivalent about launching attacks against Israel [source]. 
  • Even so, Hezbollah is believed to possess anti-ship ballistic missiles (ASBM) obtained from China. Hezbollah is also believed to possess Russian Yakhont ASBMs [source]. 
  • Hezbollah used a Chinese C-802 ASBM to disable the INS Hanit in 2006 [source]. 
  • Israel shot down three Hezbollah drones over the Karish oil field [source]. 
  • Hezbollah published videos taken by drones of Israeli natural gas extraction ships, implying it has the ability to monitor and therefore target Israeli vessels [source].
  • Iranian support greatly enhanced Hezbollah’s anti-air capabilities. This in turn limited the ability of the Israeli Air Force to conduct intelligence-gathering missions over Lebanon [source]. 
  • Israel regularly targets and destroys Iranian-supplied anti-air systems in Syria for this reason. However, Israel has chosen restraint in attacking Hezbollah’s anti-air targets in Lebanon [source].
  • The head of Hamas, Ismail Haniyeh, met with Hasan Nasrallah in Beirut in order to coordinate efforts at cooperation [source]. 

KJ-3: It is likely that Israel will become a major supplier of natural gas to European and Middle Eastern markets in the next 12 months.

  • There is an estimated 1.7 billion barrels of oil and 34.5 trillion m3 of natural gas in the disputed maritime zone [source]. 
  • A deal was finalized in June between the EU, Egypt and Israel to supply liquefied natural gas (LNG) to Europe [source].
  • Israeli LNG will be sent via pipeline to Egypt’s LNG liquefaction terminal at Beheira. The LNG will be transported further to the European energy market by tanker [source]. 
  • This new deal will complement the EastMed pipeline project started in 2020. EastMed is an undersea pipeline between Israel, Cyprus and Greece [source].
  • While the EastMed project will take roughly 7 years to complete, the deal signed in June takes immediate effect [source].
  • Israel increased gas exports to Egypt and Jordan. Both countries increased their imports of Israeli gas to match domestic demand [source]. 
  • Turkey and Israel are reportedly in closed-door discussions over constructing a pipeline, although these efforts are still in the preliminary phases [source].

Intelligence Cut-Off Date: August 19, 2022

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