Hezbollah warns Israel of ‘escalation’ if Lebanese demands not met in maritime talks

Hezbollah terror leader Hassan Nasrallah has warned of an “escalation” with Israel if Lebanese demands are not met in maritime border talks.

In a televised speech for a Hezbollah event on Friday, Nasrallah denied any link between the Iranian-backed terror organization’s actions in the maritime dispute – which the United States mediated – and ongoing negotiations to restore the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, which seemed to be at its peak.

“If the Lebanese state doesn’t get what it wants, we will be heading for an escalation, even if the nuclear deal is signed,” the Hezbollah leader said, according to Lebanese news site Naharnet. “If the American mediator comes to give the Lebanese state what it wants, we will be heading for calm, whether or not there is a nuclear agreement.

“The eyes of the Lebanese should not be on Vienna… The eyes should be on Karish, the maritime border and northern Israel,” he added, referring to the location of the border talks and to an Israeli offshore gas field claimed by Lebanon.

Nasrallah also attacked Amos Hochstein, the US State Department mediator in the maritime dispute between Israel and Lebanon, which he said was “still wasting time”. He said “Hochstein’s time is running out” to broker a deal.

Hezbollah is poised to reap financial benefits from a renewed nuclear deal, which would see its main patron, Iran, receive substantial relief from US sanctions in exchange for the reimposition of restrictions on its nuclear program, while that a maritime border deal with Israel would position Lebanon to reap the windfall of profits from offshore gas exploration.

An Israeli Sa’ar 5-class corvette guards the floating production, storage and offloading vessel Energean at the Karish gas field, in footage released by the military on July 2, 2022. (Israel Defense Forces)

The Hezbollah leader has issued a number of threats against Israel recently, amid intensified US efforts to resolve the more than decade-old maritime border dispute between Jerusalem and Beirut, which have been officially at war since the establishment of the Jewish state in 1948.

Both countries claim some 860 square kilometers (330 square miles) of Mediterranean Sea. Lebanon also claims the Karish gas field is in disputed territory under ongoing maritime border negotiations, while Israel claims it is within its internationally recognized economic waters.

Israel and Hezbollah are bitter enemies who fought a month-long war in the summer of 2006. Israel views the Iran-backed Shiite group as its most serious immediate threat, estimating that Hezbollah has some 150,000 rockets and missiles targeting Israel.

Lebanon badly needs a maritime border deal in the Mediterranean as it hopes to exploit offshore gas reserves to try to alleviate what has become the worst economic crisis in its modern history.

Last month, the Israeli army shot down four unarmed Hezbollah drones flying towards the Karish field. Lebanese Prime Minister Najib Mikati then criticized Hezbollah, saying the move could pose risks for the country. Hezbollah also released images showing gas platforms in the region.

Earlier this month, Israeli security officials warned the country’s political echelon that a failure to reach an agreement in the maritime border dispute with Lebanon would potentially mean being drawn into a military conflict with Hezbollah.

Agencies contributed to this report.

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