Did the demarcation agreement with Lebanon stop Israel’s strikes in Syria

Syrian air defense system’s surface-to-air missile response following an Israeli bombing in the sky of Damascus - April 2018 (AP)

Syrian air defense system’s surface-to-air missile response following an Israeli bombing in the sky of Damascus - April 2018 (AP)

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Enab Baladi – Muhammed Fansa

The so-called Axis of Resistance, composed of Iran, the Syrian regime, and Lebanon’s Hezbollah, agreed with Israel on the issue of demarcating the maritime borders between Lebanon and Israel, coinciding with the cessation of Israeli strikes on Iran and Hezbollah’s positions in Syria. The question arises as to how much the demarcation agreement relates to calming the bombing.

The latest Israeli strike on Syrian territory was a month ago, on 17 September, when it targeted Damascus International Airport and other positions in the southern countryside, killing at least five soldiers of the Syrian regime forces.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) said that the shelling killed seven Hezbollah and Iranian elements and their affiliated militias, targeting warehouses, an air defense system, and drones, all overseen by Hezbollah and Iranian militias.

The pace of Israeli attacks has escalated since the beginning of this year, with the first eight months witnessing 49 targetings, an increase of 22.5% compared to the same period last year, according to a study published by the Harmoon Center for Contemporary Studies on 7 September.

According to Enab Baladi’s monitoring, not a single month has passed since the beginning of 2022 without one or more Israeli strikes on regime-held areas, with the exception of this October.

Negotiations on demarcating the maritime borders between Lebanon and Israel had entered their final stages through the American mediator, Amos Hochstein, at the beginning of this month, after the latter handed over a draft agreement, which the Speaker of the Lebanese Parliament, Nabih Berri, described as “positive” and “in principle” satisfies the Lebanese demands.

Despite the Lebanese amendments, which were met with Israeli displeasure and suggested the collapse of the agreement, the two parties came to an agreement after consultations conducted by the American mediator. On 11 October, Lebanese President Michel Aoun received the final draft of the maritime border demarcation file, which he described as “satisfactory to Lebanon as it meets its demands.”

No regional repercussions

Former Lebanese Interior Minister, Ashraf Rifi, said that the reason for the decline in the Israeli strikes on Syria is that Iran has informed Israel of its willingness to evacuate its camps in Syria, citing the “easing” of the raids on the Iranian Revolutionary Guards and Hezbollah, according to his interview with the Lebanese newspaper Annahar on 11 October.

Author and researcher on Iranian affairs, Diaa Kaddour, told Enab Baladi that the maritime border demarcation agreement might positively affect the stability of the situation in Lebanon, but it cannot necessarily reflect on the security events taking place on Syrian territory.

Kaddour added that the maritime border demarcation agreement should be viewed from a “local perspective” due to both parties’ private interests. No “regional repercussions,” especially in Syria, can be expected as a result of the agreement. He ruled out any Iranian withdrawal from Syria, noting that interruptions in Israeli attacks had previously recurred.

The Israeli researcher specializing in Arab affairs, Yoav Stern, believes that the cessation of Israeli operations in Syria may have a variety of reasons.

However, in response to questions sent electronically by Enab Baladi, he refuted the talk about any Iranian withdrawal from Syria given the importance of Iran’s program there on the one hand and the lack of indications to support the withdrawal theory on the other.

The “Axis” is satisfied with the agreement

Hours after the Lebanese Presidency commented on its satisfaction with the final draft of the border demarcation agreement between Israel and Lebanon, Lebanese sources close to Hezbollah told Reuters that the latter had agreed to the terms of the deal and considered the negotiations to be “over.”

On 13 October, a report by the Lebanese newspaper al-Jumhuriya said that “Syria welcomes the gas agreement, and that the maritime demarcation with Lebanon has become possible,” indicating that the agreement will facilitate the issue of demarcating the maritime borders between Lebanon and Syria, and thus the issue of extracting Syrian gas from the disputed marine blocks with Lebanon.

On the same day, Lebanon’s president, Michel Aoun, tweeted about Lebanon’s move after the agreement to hold talks with Syria on the disputed area of 900 square kilometers, describing the discussions as “brotherly.”

The specialist in Iranian affairs, Diaa Kaddour, asserted to Enab Baladi that there was tacit approval by Hezbollah of the maritime agreement.

He said that although Iran may not be satisfied with this agreement, it will not stand in the way of its completion.

Israeli researcher Yoav Stern noted that the agreement represents the “obvious” economic interest of all parties, including Syria and Hezbollah.

On the Syrian side, an agreement can now be sought on maritime borders, and it would be possible to finally take economic advantage of the disputed fields.

As for Hezbollah, it is satisfied with the agreement because it plans to “seize” gas or oil revenues if they are extracted, which indicates that Iran welcomes it.

What is the maritime delimitation agreement?

Lebanon and Israel reached an agreement to demarcate their maritime boundaries after two years of US mediation. Israel described this agreement as “historic” because it would allow the two parties to explore for gas and oil in the disputed area in territorial waters.

Under the terms of the agreement, the entire Karish gas field will belong to the Israeli side, while the agreement guarantees Lebanon the entire Qana gas field, which goes beyond the demarcation line separating the two parties.

Block No. 9, where the Qana field is located, will constitute a major area for exploration by the French Total and the Italian Eni companies, which obtained in 2018, with a Russian company, contracts for oil and gas exploration before the latter withdrew during the current year.

Israel will receive “compensation from the operator of Block No. 9 in exchange for its rights from any potential stocks in the designated block” since part of the Qana field is located outside Lebanese territorial waters.

According to the agreement, “Israel and the operator of Block No. 9 will conclude a financial agreement before the operator makes the final investment decision”. Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid said on 12 October that Israel would receive about 17% of the revenues from the Qana field when it enters the production stage.

The agreement will enter into force when the United States sends a notice with confirmation of each party’s agreement to the provisions of the agreement.

Each party should also submit a letter containing a list of geographical coordinates relating to the demarcation of the maritime line to the United Nations, replacing those sent by the two countries in 2011. Neither of them has the future right to send any memorandum containing maps or coordinates contrary to those agreed upon by the two parties.

Lebanon is counting on the gas discovery, having plunged into a financial crisis since 2019. This discovery can help produce sufficient electricity for the population.

The agreement comes at a time when the European Union is seeking to diversify its gas supply as a result of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, as Israel relies on the Karish field to increase gas shipments to Europe.

 

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