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Israel-Lebanon deal good for Cyprus EEZ disputes

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A US-brokered draft deal between Israel and Lebanon over a dispute in demarcating a maritime border between them may help Cyprus to settle its issues with the two neighbouring countries.

On Sunday, Israel gave its preliminary nod to a draft US-brokered deal demarcating a maritime border with Lebanon that may lead to profit-sharing in a disputed Mediterranean gas prospect.

Hoping to defuse one source of conflict between the hostile countries and prod them toward accommodation, US envoy Amos Hochstein submitted a new proposal to pave the way for offshore energy exploration.

Israeli approval awaits legal review, Prime Minister Yair Lapid told his cabinet at its weekly session.

“But”, as Lapid said in televised remarks, “just as we insisted from day one, the proposal fully preserves Israel’s national security interests and our economic interests”.

The issue seems to be heading for the desired outcome after years of stop-start shuttle diplomacy, as Lebanese authorities also appear to be on board with the deal.

As Beirut mulls the 10-page draft – details of which have been kept under wraps – the Iran-backed Hezbollah movement called it “a very important step” while Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri, a powerful Hezbollah ally, deemed it “positive”.

The development could signal a settlement to the long-running dispute on exploiting a natural gas reservoir that straddles the maritime boundaries of Cyprus and Israel.

The Cypriot Aphrodite field and Israel’s Yishai gas field expand across the maritime territory claimed by both countries.

Aphrodite – licensed to US firm Chevron, Britain’s Shell, and Israeli partners — was discovered in 2011 and is estimated to hold around 4.5 trillion cubic feet of natural gas.

A small portion of the field extends into the Yishai license in the Israeli exclusive economic zone, an obstacle complicating the gas field’s development.

Cyprus and Israel have held talks to reach a unitisation agreement for over a decade but have yet to conclude a deal.

A recent visit by Israeli Energy Minister Karine Elharrar for talks with her Cypriot counterpart Natasa Pilides saw the two sides agreeing to resolve the dispute speedily.

Despite their 2007 EEZ delimitation agreement, pending ratification by Beirut, Cyprus and Lebanon also have pending maritime delimitation issues.

The latter also denounced a 2010 Cyprus-Israel maritime zone agreement as violating its sovereignty and economic interests.

Therefore, the latest development could pave the way for fully normalising the Cyprus-Lebanon maritime border issue.

Meanwhile, energy giant Total, with a strong presence in the Cypriot EEZ, benefits directly from the Lebanon-Israel agreement since it is involved in the former’s exclusive economic zone and will be awarded the Qanna field.

A development that should interest Nicosia as the French giant has research rights in Cyprus blocks.

TotalEnergies holds a 50% interest in Blocks 6 and 11, where Eni is the operator (50%). Block 11 is adjacent to the biggest Egyptian find, Zohr.

It also has a vested interest in block 3, which is adjacent to the Lebanese EEZ.