Israel reportedly believes US-brokered talks with Lebanon on demarcating the countries’ maritime border could be held within weeks.
Speaking with Reuters on Tuesday, an unnamed senior Israeli official said the talks “will begin already in the coming weeks” and could be held in southern Lebanon.
The official said the potential talks, which Lebanon has not publicly commented on, would only deal with demarcating the maritime border and not the land border.
The comments came as US Acting Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs David Satterfield has shuttled between Israel and Lebanon in recent months to mediate in the border dispute.
“In the past 10 days of Satterfield’s shuttling between Israel and Lebanon a number of technical issues have been discussed, like the agreement that the talks will happen at the UN facility in Naqoura in southern Lebanon and with US mediation by Satterfield,” the Israeli official told Reuters.
The official also said one proposal being discussed was to allow energy companies to carry out seismic surveys in both Israeli and Lebanon waters, which are believed to hold deposits of oil and natural gas.
An American official told the news agency that the US “stands ready to work towards solutions that are mutually agreeable to both parties” but would not comment on Satterfield’s meetings.
Last week, the Lebanese Foreign Ministry said Lebanon and Israel were close to establishing a framework for negotiations on demarcating the countries’ land and maritime borders.
In a statement, the ministry said the form of negotiations to be held under United Nations auspices and the role of each of the concerned parties was still being worked out. The purported negotiations are to be overseen by Washington, which has been mediating between the countries.
The statement came after a meeting between Lebanese Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil and Satterfield. The Lebanese Foreign Ministry said Satterfield conveyed Israel’s response to the Lebanese proposals and that the atmosphere was “positive.”
The day before, Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz said Jerusalem had agreed to enter the talks after meeting Satterfield.
Last year, Lebanon signed its first contract to drill for oil and gas in its waters, including in a block disputed by Israel, with which it has fought several wars and has no diplomatic relations.
Israel also produces natural gas from reserves off its coast in the Mediterranean.
Israel and Lebanon are still technically at war, although the last Israeli troops withdrew from southern Lebanon in 2000 after two decades of military presence.