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Israel and Lebanon settle a dispute over gas drilling rights in the Mediterranean Sea


Israel and Lebanon have ended their longtime dispute over where to draw their border at sea. The U.S. mediated the deal between the two enemies. President Biden called it a historic breakthrough. NPR's Daniel Estrin reports from Tel Aviv on what prompted the deal.

DANIEL ESTRIN, BYLINE: The U.S. says it's the first time Israel and Lebanon have ever mutually agreed on a border between them. Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid echoed President Biden, calling it historic.


PRIME MINISTER YAIR LAPID: (Non-English language spoken).

ESTRIN: He said Israel has been trying to reach this deal for more than 10 years and that it will strengthen the security of northern Israel. The matter in dispute was who gets natural gas fields off the Mediterranean coast. One is in disputed waters. Another is an Israeli waters where Lebanon laid a new claim two years ago. Israel recently made moves to extract gas there. And Lebanese militant group Hezbollah made threats of war. The details haven't been officially announced, but reportedly the two sides compromised on the border line. Israel will extract gas from one field, and Lebanon will explore for gas in the other potential field, with the U.S. and Israel saying Lebanon will share some of the revenues. Lebanon's chief negotiator, Elias Bou Saab, says the deal satisfies both sides.


ELIAS BOU SAAB: (Non-English language spoken).

ESTRIN: He said it would provide economic stability and some hope to Lebanese with their economy in crisis and an electric grid that often provides just a couple hours of power a day.

RANDA SLIM: For Lebanon, it is a good deal.

ESTRIN: Lebanese American Randa Slim is a senior fellow at the Middle East Institute in Washington.

SLIM: It removes a source of tension and it opens prospects for Lebanon economic prospects. And we don't know how much gas that is. But still, even if some gas gets out, it can be used in the Lebanese domestic market. And it can provide a source of revenue for the country whose economy is in major dire straits right now.

ESTRIN: She thinks it could pave the way for negotiations over their land border now. Former deputy Israeli navy chief Shaul Chorev also thinks it's a step forward.

SHAUL CHOREV: Once you have such an agreement, it is the beginning of normalization, the relationships between us and Lebanon.

ESTRIN: But former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says the deal is a capitulation to Hezbollah. And with Israeli elections just three weeks away, he says he won't consider himself beholden to the deal if he's voted back into office. Daniel Estrin, NPR News, Tel Aviv. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Daniel Estrin is NPR's international correspondent in Jerusalem.