JERUSALEM — Israel’s Cabinet on Wednesday voted in favor of a U.S.-brokered maritime border deal with Lebanon, taking a new step forward toward formal approval of the agreement.
Prime Minister Yair Lapid’s office announced that the agreement was approved in principle by a “large majority” of Cabinet ministers. The agreement was to be forwarded to the Knesset, or parliament, for a 14-day review period before a final Cabinet vote is to take place.
The Cabinet vote, along with an earlier approval by a smaller group of senior government ministers known as the Security Cabinet, came a day after Lapid announced that Israel agreed to the terms of the landmark deal between the two countries that have formally been in a state of war since 1948.
Lebanon and Israel both claim around 860 square kilometers (330 square miles) of the Mediterranean Sea that are home to offshore gas fields. At stake are rights over exploiting those undersea resources.
Under the agreement, the disputed waters would be divided along a line straddling the strategic “Qana” natural gas field. Gas production would be based on the Lebanese side, though Israel would be compensated for any gas extracted from its side of the line.
Lebanon hopes gas exploration will help lift its country out of its spiraling economic crisis. Israel also hopes to exploit gas reserves while also hoping the deal will reduce the risk of war with Lebanon’s Hezbollah militant group.
But the deal still faces numerous hurdles, including legal and political challenges in Israel. Opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu has accused Lapid of capitulating to Hezbollah threats to attack Israeli gas assets elsewhere in the Mediterranean and vowed to fight the deal.
The Supreme Court on Wednesday dismissed a petition to freeze the deal because of its approval just weeks before Israel holds national elections. The Nov. 1 vote will be Israel’s fifth election in under four years.
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