Despite threats from Hezbollah over Israel’s unilateral extraction of gas from Karish field, Tel Aviv has shown the green light to the UK-based drilling company Energean to begin testing gas pumping from the field.
This Sunday, the English drilling company, Energean, issues a statement saying that with the agreement of Israel, the company has started pumping gas from the Karish gas field. “Following approval received from the Israeli Ministry of Energy to start certain testing procedures, the flow of gas from onshore to the FPSO has commenced”, the drilling copany said, referring to the Karish floating production storage offloading facility.
The statement was issued while the head of the powerful Lebanese Shia movement Hezbollah, Hasan Nasrallah, has been threatening Israel several times in recent weeks with attacks if Tel Aviv began gas production from the disputed field.
In recent weeks, there were signs of compromise between Israel and Lebanon in coming to an agreement over a mutual gas extraction from the Kaish field in the Mediterranean Sea. However, things seem have changed since last week and the prospect for peace is fading away.
It was last week on Thursday, for example, that Defense Minister Benny Gantz instructed the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) to prepare for potential escalation along Israel’s northern borders, including “defense and offense readiness.”
A week before, and upon receiving the draft proposal from America mediator Amos Hochstein, Lapid and Gantz said they were willing to accept it. Lapid defended the document against opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu, who accused him of caving to all of Lebanon’s demands. Israel’s Lapid told his cabinet on Sunday that the US proposal “strengthens Israel’s security and Israel’s economy”.
Netanyahu, however, disagreed with the proposal and accused Lapid of “giving Hezbollah sovereign Israeli territory with a huge gas field that belongs” to the Jewish state, without specifying which Israeli waters he believes are being surrendered.” Lapid shot back, accusing Netanyahu of making “irresponsible announcements” that undermine Israel’s “security interests”.
What’s Lebanon’s stance?
Lebanon, too, accepted the proposal. “If everything goes well, Amos Hochstein’s efforts could imminently lead to a historic deal,” Lebanese lead negotiator Bou Saab said minutes after receiving the draft from Hochstein.
Two days later, however, Lebanon made some revisions to the text originally proposed by Washington and said it will accept the proposal only if their revisions are taken into account.
This time, Israel said that it cannot accept Lebanon’s proposed changes to the gas deal, leaving efforts to resolve the conflict go astray.
And just like that, with no advance warning, Israel announced that it has unilaterally authorized the Energean to begin testing gas pumping, letting the harbingers of peace turn into drums of war.
Israel says the Karish field is located entirely within its exclusive economic zone, but Lebanon insists that part of the field falls within its own waters.
Lebanon and Israel have no diplomatic relations and their land border is patrolled by the United Nations. The two sides are technically still at war. Starting in 2020, five sessions of indirect negotiations to resolve the dispute over the gas field have been held under UN sponsorship and US mediation, with the latest round held in May 2021.
With all the talks producing no result, the US decided to mediate personally in the dispute last month by offering a deal to both parties.
Under the terms of the US-proposed draft agreement that leaked to the press last week, Israel will own and control all of the Karish gas field. Instead, the other potential gas field in the area named the Qana would be divided between Lebanon and Israel, but its exploitation would be under Lebanon’s control.
Washington has also proposed that French company Total be licensed to search for gas in the Qana field, and Israel would receive a share of future revenue.