Hezbollah terror chief Hassan Nasrallah warned of an “escalation” with Israel if Lebanese demands in the sea border talks were not met.
In a televised address Friday ahead of a Hezbollah event, Nasrallah denied any connection between the Iran-backed terrorist organization’s actions in the naval dispute — which the United States mediated — and ongoing negotiations to restore Iran’s 2015 nuclear deal, which appears to have been at its peak be.
“If the Lebanese state is not given what it wants, we will be headed for escalation even if the nuclear deal is 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 on our way to rest, whether or not there is a nuclear deal.”
“Lebanese’s eyes shouldn’t be on Vienna… 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 Israel-Lebanon naval dispute, who he says is “still wasting time.” He said Hochstein’s “time is running out” to negotiate a deal.
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Hezbollah is poised to benefit financially from a renewed nuclear deal that would result in its main patron Iran receiving significant relief from US sanctions in return for reining in its nuclear program, while a maritime border deal with Israel would position Lebanon to reap the windfall of offshore gas exploration profits.
An Israeli Sa’ar Class 5 corvette guards Energean’s floating production, storage and offloading vessel at the Karish gas field, in footage released by the military on July 2, 2022. (Israel Defense Forces)
The Hezbollah chief recently issued a series of threats against Israel amid increased U.S. 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 was established in 1948.
Both countries claim about 860 square kilometers (330 sq mi) of the Mediterranean Sea. Lebanon also claims that the Karish gas field is in a disputed area where negotiations over sea borders are ongoing, while Israel says it is within its internationally recognized economic waters.
Israel and Hezbollah are bitter enemies who waged a month-long war in the summer of 2006. Israel views the Iran-backed Shia group as its most serious imminent threat and estimates that Hezbollah has about 150,000 rockets and rockets aimed at Israel.
Lebanon badly needs a Mediterranean maritime border deal as it hopes to exploit offshore gas reserves to try to alleviate the worst economic crisis in its modern history.
Last month, the Israeli military shot down four unarmed Hezbollah drones flying toward Karish field. Then-Lebanese Prime Minister Najib Mikati criticized Hezbollah, saying the move could pose risks for the country. Hezbollah also aired footage showing gas platforms in the area.
Earlier this month, Israeli security officials warned the country’s political level that a failure to settle the maritime border dispute with Lebanon could mean being drawn into a military conflict with Hezbollah.
Agencies contributed to this report.
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