Israel PM visits France with Lebanon gas row topping agenda
Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid departed on his first foreign trip in office Tuesday to France, where he will ask for backing on a gas dispute with Lebanon that days ago saw Israel shoot down three Hezbollah drones.
Lapid took over the premiership on Friday following the collapse of Israel’s coalition government, which will see the country return to the polls in November for its fifth election in less than four years.
The new leader was confronted with his first test a day later, when Lebanon’s Hezbollah movement launched three drones towards an offshore gas field in the eastern Mediterranean.
Speaking before his departure from Tel Aviv, Lapid said he will raise the matter with French President Emmanuel Macron.
“We will also discuss of course what has occurred recently off the coast of Lebanon,” Lapid said.
“There have been repeated attacks on Israeli gas rigs. Israel will not accept this type of attacks on its sovereignty.”
Lebanon rejects Israel’s claim that the Karish gas field lies within its territorial waters.
Israel and Lebanon resumed negotiations on their maritime border in 2020, though the Karish site sits outside of the disputed area and is marked as Israeli on previous United Nations maps.
The US-backed talks have been stalled by Beirut’s demand that the UN maps must be modified.
Hezbollah’s backers Iran will also be on the agenda at the bilateral talks in Paris, as Israel stands firmly opposed to international efforts to revive a nuclear accord with Tehran.
“It’s important that our position against this agreement is heard,” Lapid said Tuesday.
Israeli officials fear that giving Iran sanctions relief in exchange for curbs on its nuclear programme could allow Tehran to boost funding to Hezbollah, as well as the Palestinian militant group Hamas.
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A senior Israeli official said the Lebanon gas issue will be high on agenda during talks at the Elysee Palace in Paris.
“We will ask France to intervene to secure the negotiations that we want to lead until the end of the gas issues,” the official told journalists travelling with the premier.
Lapid’s Paris visit comes days ahead of US President Joe Biden travelling to Israel and the Palestinian territories, before flying to Saudi Arabia for energy talks.
Washington is seeking to stabilise the global energy market following the Russian invasion of Ukraine, which led Moscow to cut its gas supplies to some European countries.
Israel and Egypt signed a deal last month to boost gas exports to the European Union, as the bloc attempts to end its dependency on Russian energy.
“The Lebanon issue is essential and Lapid will come back to the Israeli position, according to which Hezbollah is first and foremost a threat to the future of Lebanon,” said the Israeli official, who requested anonymity.
Israel and Lebanon remain technically at war but agreed to talks aimed at delineating their maritime border to allow both countries to boost gas exploration.