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Lebanon claims it has US ‘guarantees’ to keep Netanyahu from ditching border deal

BEIRUT, Lebanon — Lebanon has secured “American guarantees” that its maritime border deal with Israel cannot be easily scrapped should Benjamin Netanyahu return to the Israeli premiership, Beirut’s chief negotiator said Wednesday.

Israel and Lebanon struck a US-brokered sea border agreement last month that opens up lucrative offshore gas fields for the neighbors that remain technically at war.

Hawkish former Israeli premier Netanyahu, who on Wednesday appeared on the cusp of returning to power, has staunchly opposed the deal, dismissing it as an “illegal ploy” and warning he would not be bound by its terms.

“We obtained sufficient American guarantees that this deal cannot easily be cancelled,” said Lebanon’s negotiator Elias Bou Saab, who is also deputy parliament speaker.

If Netanyahu wants to withdraw from the deal, then “he will withdraw from an agreement with the US,” Bou Saab told AFP, noting that Israel and Lebanon had signed separate deals with the United States.

He said Washington had warned that “the withdrawal of any party would have great consequences on both countries.”

“When Netanyahu says that he wants to withdraw, this means that he will be facing the international community,” Bou Saab added.

A United Nations peacekeeping force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) ship patrols off Lebanon’s southern town of Naqura close to the border with Israel on October 27, 2022. (MAHMOUD ZAYYAT / AFP)

In Washington, State Department spokesman Ned Price stopped short of confirming guarantees, but said the deal was “in the interests of Israel and Lebanon.”

“Because it was in the interest of both countries it was in the profound interest of the United States. We seek to see a more stable, a more integrated region,” he told reporters.

“Scarce resources, we know from history, have the potential to create tensions and potentially to escalate tensions into, in some cases, the brink of conflict.”

US President Joe Biden had hailed the “historic” deal, which comes as Western powers clamour to open up new energy production and reduce vulnerability to supply cuts from Russia.

Netanyahu, who has called the deal a “capitulation agreement,” has not commented on it since Tuesday’s Israeli elections.

Initial results showed his alliance with the extreme right taking a narrow lead.

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