Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel’s former prime minister who has made a comeback ahead of the November 1 parliamentary election, seeks to attract more right-wing votes by focusing on Israel’s territorial interests, which are allegedly threatened by a maritime border deal with Lebanon, an Israeli expert told Sputnik.
On October 11, Lebanon and Israel agreed on the US-mediated draft agreement on the demarcation of a maritime border, thus ending the decades-old dispute. The deal will open the way for offshore oil and gas exploration, and prevent a potential conflict between the two countries. The document is likely to be signed on October 27, according to incumbent Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid.
“Netanyahu is promoting the idea that it was a disgraceful surrender by the current leadership. He claimed that Lapid had given [Secretary-General of Lebanon’s militant group Hezbollah Hassan] Nasrallah our territorial waters and gas. All that he is trying to do is to ‘catch fish in muddy waters.’ He is likely to benefit from his catchy slogans, while the current prime minister, Lapid, who approved the deal, may lose votes among the right-wing electorate,” Vladimir Beyder, an Israeli TV presenter, editor and screenwriter, told Sputnik.
He also recalled that the deal had been reviewed by the country’s parliament without being brought to a vote, but Netanyahu tried to halt its ratification by initiating a voting procedure among lawmakers. The attempt could have been damaging and opportunistic in its nature, given that few people in the Israeli parliament would have been able to sort out the legal, economic and technological intricacies of the agreement, Beyder said.
“The head of the opposition [Netanyahu] was trying to disrupt the ratification by submitting it to the ruling of amateurs. Unfortunately, short-term political gain can blind and interfere with the strategic interests of both countries. The truth is that the deal is too complex, some of its paragraphs are classified, while the Israeli army and special services, who had access to the document, approved the deal,” the expert added.
Beyder believes the deal to be an unprecedented compromise between the two countries, as it will open the way for offshore energy exploration and destroy one source of potential conflict between Israel and Lebanon’s Hezbollah group.
“Israel is objectively interested in having some kind of agreement with Beirut and Hezbollah. Hezbollah also had to make concessions and to agree to this deal, since the benefits to Lebanon are too significant and undeniable,” the expert said.
Laury Haytayan, a Lebanese expert on oil and gas in the Middle East and North Africa, also said that Lebanese political elites considered the deal with Israel to be very advantageous. In particular, the agreement will not only help the country recover from the financial crisis, but also reaffirm the government’s political legitimacy among Lebanese citizens.
“With this deal they feel they have empowered themselves again. The ruling class believes and tries to convince others that this deal would be economically beneficial. The Lebanese government assures that the moment hydrocarbon activities start, other companies will enter the country and become a part of the consortium or launch other excavation projects,” the Lebanese expert told Sputnik.
Beirut also believes the agreement to be valuable from a security perspective, as it is expected to create stability and predictability in relations between Lebanon and Israel, Haytayan explained. This, in turn, is likely to attract more investors not only to the oil and gas industries, but also to other sectors of the Lebanese economy.
At the same time, despite the deal’s obvious benefits, Haytayan expressed doubts that Lebanon would be able to properly manage resources and revenues, due to the high level of corruption in the country.
“The people fear that because of the corrupt system, lack of accountability and rule of law, discovered oil and gas will not be managed properly, and it will be a waste of resources and revenues,” the expert said, adding that there were also concerns that Hezbollah would try to benefit from the concessions it had made during the talks with Israel.
Israel has been in an electoral deadlock, facing its fifth national election in less than four years on November 1. Netanyahu, the longest-serving Israeli prime minister and most prominent political figure in Israel’s recent history, went into opposition after failing to secure support for his cabinet in 2021 amid legal troubles.
Netanyahu’s Likud party is expected to win the largest bloc of seats in the Knesset, breaking the coalition patched up by Lapid just a year prior. With the corruption case against Netanyahu moving forward, the former prime minister is hard-pressed to align with far-right lawmakers to secure a win with a view to forming a coalition government and carrying out radical judicial reforms that would enable a delay in his trial.