After rejecting Lebanon’s added demands in maritime border discussions on Thursday, Israel has begun preparing for a possible altercation against Hezbollah. Israeli defense minister Benny Gantz gave the defense establishment instructions “to prepare for any scenario in which tensions increase in the northern arena, including defense and offense readiness,” according to the defense minister’s office,
Gantz issued the instruction after assessing the situation with IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Aviv Kohavi, defense officials, and other senior military officers. Not long after, Prime Minister Yair Lapid, alternative Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, and Gantz were authorized to make military decisions with any escalation in Northern Israel by the Israeli security cabinet. According to Gantz, Israeli infrastructure will be defended regardless of how the maritime deal negotiations end.
“If Hezbollah tries to harm Israeli infrastructure or sovereignty, the military cost to Lebanon and Hezbollah will be very high,” Gantz said while speaking at a memorial ceremony for the lives that were lost during the Yom Kippur War in 1973.
According to an Israeli senior diplomatic source, the changes proposed by Lebanon to the maritime border agreement drafted by the United States were rejected by Prime Minister Lapid on Thursday. Lapid assured U.S. Energy Envoy Amos Hochstein that Israel will not agree to any additional Lebanese concessions.
Hochstein presented his draft to Lebanon and Israel last week, anticipating it would be close to a final version. An agreement would have settled arguments over Israel and Lebanon’s economic waters. Draft comments were submitted by Lebanon last Tuesday. The Israeli negotiating team was instructed by Lapid to reject the new and significant demands.
According to the Israeli source, “Prime Minister Lapid made clear that he will not compromise on Israel’s security and economic interests even if it means there will not be an agreement soon.”
The source went on to add, “If Hezbullah or someone else tries to harm Karish or threaten us, the negotiations on the maritime line will stop immediately and Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah will have to explain to the citizens of Lebanon why they don’t have a gas rig and an economic future.”
According to the White House, it is still possible for Israel and Lebanon to reach an agreement, despite Lapid rejecting demands on Thursday.
“Special Presidential Coordinator Amos Hochstein continues his robust engagement to bring the maritime boundary discussion to a close. We remain in close communication with the Israelis and Lebanese,” a White House National Security spokesperson confirmed. “We are at a critical stage in the negotiations and the gaps have narrowed. We remain committed to reaching a resolution and believe a lasting compromise is possible.”
Earlier on Thursday, before Lebanese demands were rejected, Israeli Defense Minister Gantz spoke favoring a deal being made.
“We constantly remember the lesson of the Yom Kippur War,” he said. “We must not sin by being arrogant, we must be ready for every scenario. In this context, our biggest immediate operative challenge is on our northern border. These days, the government is promoting an agreement to divide economic waters between us and Lebanon, which has economic and security impact, including harm to Iran and Lebanon’s interests in the region.”
Jeffrey‘s a senior writer with ThinkCivics and a freelance journalist with The Jerusalem Post. He’s a published author, earned an associate’s degree in theology, and is pursuing a master’s degree in communications with a focus on journalism.