MESOPOTAMIA NEWS Top of the Agenda : Israel, Lebanon Begin First Talks in Decades

Officials from Israel and Lebanon met today for negotiations—the countries’ first direct civilian diplomatic talks in thirty years—aimed at resolving their disputed maritime border (Haaretz). The talks ended after roughly an hour (Reuters), with an agreement to meet again in two weeks.

​U.S. officials mediated the talks, held at a UN base in Lebanon. Israel and Lebanon are still formally at war. Israeli officials stressed that the talks would focus exclusively on the delineation of both countries’ territorial waters to allow for future oil drilling, and that they did not signal a normalization of relations (Times of Israel) akin to Israel’s recent agreements with Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates. The Lebanese militant group and political party Hezbollah also said the talks did not signal peace with Israel.

“Wednesday’s talks come as Lebanon is going through its worst economic and financial crisis in decades, compounded by a massive deadly blast at Beirut’s port in August. Lebanon is hoping that oil and natural gas discoveries in its territorial waters will help it pay back its enormous debt,” Raphael Ahren writes for the Times of Israel.

​“Behind the scenes, the United States hopes that a successful agreement over the maritime border [could] open the door to additional future contacts, against the backdrop of an U.S.-Israeli campaign to weaken the power of Hezbollah in the political arena,” Noa Landau and Jack Khoury write for Haaretz.