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

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

In a televised speech Friday for a Hezbollah event, Nasrallah denied any link between the Iran-backed terror organization’s actions in the maritime dispute — which the United States has been mediating — and the ongoing negotiations to restore the 2015 Iranian nuclear deal, which appeared to be climaxing.

“If the Lebanese state is not given what it wants, we will be heading to an escalation, even if the nuclear agreement gets signed,” the Hezbollah leader said, according to Lebanese news site Naharnet. “Should the US mediator come and give the Lebanese state what it wants, we will be heading to calm, regardless of whether or not there will be a nuclear agreement.”

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

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

Hezbollah is poised to gain financially from a renewed nuclear accord, which would see its chief patron Iran receive substantial relief from US sanctions in exchange for reimposing curbs on its nuclear program, while a maritime border deal with Israel would position Lebanon to reap the windfall of profits from offshore gas exploration.

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

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

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

Israel and Hezbollah are bitter enemies that fought a monthlong war in the summer of 2006. Israel considers the Iran-backed Shiite group its most serious immediate threat, estimating that Hezbollah has some 150,000 rockets and missiles aimed at Israel.

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

Last month, the Israeli military shot down four unarmed Hezbollah drones flying towards the Karish field. Lebanon’s Prime Minister Najib Mikati at the time criticized Hezbollah, saying the move could pose risks to the country. Hezbollah also aired footage showing the gas platforms in the area.

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 will potentially mean being dragged into a military conflict with Hezbollah.

Agencies contributed to this report.

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