Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid said Monday that he believes a maritime deal with Lebanon over their sea border is possible, emphasizing in the same breath that Israel would begin drilling at the disputed Karish gas field as soon as possible, regardless of the deal — in direct opposition to Hezbollah threats.
"Israel believes it is possible to reach an agreement on the maritime border between Lebanon and Israel in a way that will serve the interests of both country's citizens," he said, thanking American mediator Amos Hochstein for his work to reach a deal.
"The production of gas from the Karish rig is not related to the negotiations, and the rig will start producing gas as soon as is possible," the prime minister emphasized.
- New U.S. idea on maritime border with Lebanon buoys Israelis
- Nasrallah reminds Lebanon who calls the shots
- Satellite images show gas rig in Israeli territory, not in disputed zone with Lebanon
Israeli sources say that an agreement is close, with parties waiting on the final version to be drawn up and delivered by Hochstein to both parties, likely in the coming days.
Lebanese President Michel Aoun tweeted on Monday that negotiations to demarcate the southern maritime borders have reached the “final stages” in a way that guarantees the nation’s rights to explore for oil and gas.
Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah threatened on numerous occasions this summer to target Israeli drilling operations, on the grounds that Israel was infringing on Lebanon’s maritime rights. In July the IDF downed four Hezbollah drones in the area of the offshore field, on two separate occasions. They are thought to have carried cameras, not explosives, but their launch was interpreted as a threat against Israel.
In his most recent speech, on Saturday, Nasrallah reiterated that Hezbollah’s red line is the start of production from Karish in the absence of a border agreement, but noted that the organization has shown restraint for several weeks to give the negotiations a chance to yield results.
Reuters contributed to this report.