File Photo: Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid makes an opening statement as he chairs the weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem, Oct. 2, 2022. Israel s prime minister said Tuesday, Oct. 11, that the country has reached an historic agreement with neighboring Lebanon over their shared maritime border after months of US-brokered negotiations.AP
Prime Minister Yair Lapid late on Tuesday announced that Israel and Lebanon had reached an "historic" US-brokered agreement, which potentially unlocks significant offshore gas production for the eastern Mediterranean neighbours.
The deal between the countries that have remained technically at war since Israel's creation in 1948 was applauded by world leaders, including US President Joe Biden.
But at home, Lapid has faced fire from his political opponents ahead of Israel's November 1 election.
Rivals, notably opposition leader and ex-premier Benjamin Netanyahu, have charged that the centrist, interim prime minister agreed to a deal that could see fresh energy revenues reach Hezbollah, which holds huge influence in Lebanon.
Rejecting those charges, Lapid told reporters that "this agreement staves off the possibility of a military clash with Hezbollah."
"If we went out to battle, we would deal them a heavy blow. That being said, if it is possible to prevent war, it is the job of a responsible government to do so," he added.
Israeli security experts say Hezbollah has an arsenal of thousands of missiles capable of hitting Israeli population centres.
Defence Minister Benny Gantz, speaking alongside Lapid, said the agreement "has the potential to reduce Iran's influence on Lebanon".
The deal "establishes a new 'security equation' with regard to the sea," Gantz added, describing it "as positive for the citizens of Lebanon."
One friction point through the maritime border talks was control of the potentially gas-rich Qana field.
Lapid said that under the agreed terms, Israel "will receive approximately 17 percent of the revenues from the Lebanese gas field, the Qana-Sidon field, if and when they will open it."
French energy giant Total has been licenced to explore the field.
Lapid said Israel "built this agreement with the Americans so that money from this field will not reach Hezbollah", without specifying how the deal offers such assurances.
Another major source of tension was the Karish gas field, which Israel insisted fell entirely within its waters and was not a subject of negotiation.
Lebanon reportedly claimed part of the field and Hezbollah threatened attacks if Israel began production there.
"At every step of the way, we made it clear to the Lebanese -- that with or without an agreement, Israel will not delay by even a single day, the production (of gas) from the Karish platform, and will not give in to any threat," Lapid said Wednesday.
Hezbollah a day earlier said it would back the agreement if the Lebanese government officially endorsed it.
Also Wednesday, Lapid's cabinet "with an overwhelming majority" expressed in principle support for the agreement mediated by US envoy Amos Hochstein, Lapid's office said.
Lebanon's presidency said Tuesday the proposed final text submitted by Hochstein was "satisfactory", although Beirut is yet to officially accept the terms.
Israeli lawmakers were due to receive the text Wednesday night and will have 14 days to review it before it returns to cabinet for final approval.
Lapid's opponents have also launched a legal challenge demanding that the agreement be ratified by parliament, where the premier's allies do not hold a majority.
Netanyahu has said that the government he hopes to form with his far-right and religious allies after elections next month would not be bound by an agreement with Lebanon.