Lebanon and Israel have agreed to open their first negotiations on nonsecurity issues in three decades, a rare if limited breakthrough between hostile neighbors that are technically at war and have no formal diplomatic relations. Talks aimed at ending an enduring dispute over their maritime boundary in a patch of the Mediterranean Sea rich with natural gas are slated to begin this month, officials from both countries said.
  1. The talks, to be held under the auspices of the United Nations and mediated by the United States, were announced after the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain normalized relations with Israel, becoming the third and fourth Arab countries to do so
  2. The breakthrough came as Lebanon faces a punishing economic crisis and could benefit from the undersea gas. 
  3. Its currency has lost 80 percent of its value over the past year, poverty and unemployment have spiked, and its debt-to-G.D.P ratio is about 170 percent, one of the highest in the world.
  4. In August, a massive explosion in the port of Beirut killed more than 190 people and destroyed large swaths of the capital, compounding the misery.
  5. The dispute is over 330 square miles of the Mediterranean that Israel and Lebanon both claim to be within their exclusive economic zones.
  6. The stakes of the disagreement have risen as Israel and Cyprus have begun exploiting offshore gas in the eastern Mediterranean, leaving the Lebanese searching for a similar, and much-needed, boost to their economy.
  7. Israel’s offshore gas has enhanced its energy independence and earned it export contracts with Jordan and Egypt worth billions of dollars, although demand has flagged this year because of the coronavirus pandemic.
  8. The amount of gas in Lebanon’s offshore zone remains unclear, although the government has signed exploration contracts with foreign firms.