Lebanon and Israel reach “historic” gas fields deal
By Joseph Tulloch
Lebanon and Israel have reportedly reached an agreement concerning their maritime border and the ownership of offshore gas fields. If ratified by both governments, the deal would represent a major step forward for the neigbouring countries, bringing a dispute of several decades to an end.
Under the terms of the agreement, which was announced on Tuesday, 11 October, Israel takes complete control of one of the disputed gas fields, while the second is shared.
Disputes about the maritime border between the countries, which are technically at war, date back decades, and had recently threatened to become violent once again, after the Lebanese militia Hezbollah repeatedly warned that it would attack Israel if extraction began before talks were completed.
Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid called the deal “historic”, and said it would “strengthen Israel’s security, inject billions into Israel’s economy, and ensure the stability of our northern border.”
Lebanese President Michel Aoun, meanwhile, said the agreement “satisfies Lebanon, meets its demands, and preserves its rights to its natural resources.”
US President Joe Biden, whose country brokered the talks, called the result a “historic breakthrough.”
Lebanon in crisis
The deal is welcome news in Lebanon, a country currently undergoing economic catastrophe.
Since 2019, the Lebanese Pound has lost approximately 95% of its value, and Gross Domestic Product has more than halved. Households rarely have access to more than a few hours of electricity per day, and 80% of the population now live in poverty, in what was previously considered a middle-income country. The World Bank has called the crisis in Lebanon the worst anywhere in the world since the 1850s.
Lebanon hopes that the deal, which should bring in millions of dollars of oil revenue, will help lift it out of its predicament.
Beacon of fraternity
The Holy See has repeatedly emphasized the importance of Lebanon, which is the country in the Middle East with the largest percentage of Christians, and often regarded as a model of harmonious co-existence between different faiths.
Both Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI visited the country, and, although Pope Francis was prevented by health problems from making a planned trip last year, he has received the Lebanese President in Rome, and organized a high-profile ecumenical prayer meeting for the country.
In 1989 Pope John Paul II famously declared that Lebanon is “more than a country: It is a message of freedom and an example of pluralism for the East as well as for the West.” Pope Francis has echoed this sentiment, expressing his hope that the crisis will not lead Lebanon to “lose its identity, nor the experience of fraternal coexistence that has made it a message for the whole world.”