Israel & Lebanon: A Maritime Border Agreement

Natural gas fields provide some common ground for a maritime border agreement

Israel & Lebanon: A Maritime Border Agreement

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We're super excited to have John Fowler, Founder of Intrigue and former Australian diplomat and international lawyer, guest write us a deep-dive on this edition of "Why Does This Matter?".

(If you're not already subscribed to Intrigue I highly recommend you do so... it's one of those rare good ones you actually open and read all the way through. And we're not being paid to say that but John did promise to host us down under for some tinnies and a barbie.)

A story that has gotten buried in the madness over the last few months is the maritime border agreement between Israel and Lebanon, two nations that have had their differences in the past (slight understatement), both coming together because of one common goal: drilling for natural gas.

Grab a coffee, sit back, and let John take you through the details and nuance of this historic agreement...


A lot has happened in Israeli politics over the last few months:

  • the Israeli Defense Forces almost certainly killed Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh,
  • violence in the Gaza strip is threatening to flair up, and,
  • like a party guest who never leaves, Bibi Netanyahu is back as Israeli Prime Minister.

But one issue has mainly passed under the radar of the mainstream press - Lebanon and Israel agreed to a deal to officially demarcate their maritime border.

Now, it might strike you as odd that the border between Israel and Lebanon remained unsettled for so long. After all, both countries are in a region where everyone takes their territorial integrity rather seriously.

The truth is Lebanon and Israel’s maritime border has only really become a significant problem since a series of natural gas fields were discovered in the Eastern Mediterranean in 2010. In fact, the Levantine Basin, which stretches from Egypt to Turkey, is the most extensive deep-water gas discovery of the last decade.

Since the discovery in 2010, Lebanon and Israel (and Palestine, but that’s an issue for another day) have sparred about where to draw their border and which country has the right to exploit the gas reserves.

Fast forward 12 years, including two years of serious negotiations beginning in 2020, and on 27 October, Lebanon and Israel signed a deal to officially demarcate their maritime border.

The Deal

The newly agreed border will start at the two countries’ land border, extend out into the Mediterranean Sea following a 5km-long buoy-marked border that Israel has claimed since 2000, and then change tack to follow what is known as ‘Line 23’ out to the edge of the two countries exclusive economic zones (EEZ).

The eagle-eyed among you will have noted that the new border chops off the end of what is known as the Qana Prospect and places the Karish Gas Field squarely within Israel’s (EEZ).

The maritime deal agreed upon between Lebanon and Israel is complex, but, broadly speaking, it gives Israel exclusive rights to the gas in the smaller but proven Karish Gas Field, as well as 17% of the unproven Qana Prospect. Lebanon has the rights to the remaining 83% of the Qana Prospect.

Two primary external motivations pushed this deal over the line: the domestic political situations in Lebanon and Israel and the energy crisis in Europe.

Why the deal matters

1. Let’s start with security (and a quick history refresher)

The tl;dr: Israel and Lebanon are shitty neighbours, but the deal was made possible because Hezbollah is weaker now than in recent history, and the previous moderate Israeli government was willing to negotiate. The deal will likely hold despite the return of Bibi Netanyahu and his hardline coalition. Overall, it’s good news for regional stability.

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