Lebanon, Israel set for talks over maritime border | Middle East

Hezbollah and Amal criticize the delegation that will represent Lebanon in talks starting Wednesday.

Lebanon and Israel are due to initiate indirect talks on their controversial maritime border, with US officials brokering the talks that both sides insist on are purely technical and are not a sign of the normalization of relations.

The talks will take place from Wednesday at the headquarters of the UN peacekeeping force UNIFIL in the Lebanese border town of Naqoura. It is unclear how long they will last.

The development comes against the backdrop of the deepening economic crisis in Lebanon, the worst in its modern history, and after a wave of US sanctions recently involving two influential former cabinet ministers allied with the armed Hezbollah group.

Israel, the United States, and some other Western and Arab countries regard Hezbollah, allied with Iran, as a terrorist organization.

Israel has said there will be “direct negotiations” which Lebanese officials have denied. The two delegations are expected to sit in the same room.

Israel has deployed a team of six, including the director general of its energy ministry, the foreign policy advisor to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the head of the army’s strategic department.

The four-person Lebanese delegation consists of two army officers, a Lebanese oil official and an expert in maritime law.

Hezbollah and its ally Amal have criticized the delegation that will represent Lebanon in the talks.

A statement by the two main Shiite parties in Lebanon, received a few hours before the meeting began, called for a reform of the negotiating team, in which only military officials without civilians or politicians could participate.

On Monday, the pro-Hezbollah Al-Akhbar daily described the talks as “a moment of unprecedented political weakness for Lebanon” and argued that Israel was the real “beneficiary”.

The talks come weeks after Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates became the first Arab nations to forge ties with Israel since Egypt in 1979 and Jordan in 1994.

Israel and Lebanon have no diplomatic relations and are technically at war.

They each claim that around 860 square kilometers of the Mediterranean are in their own exclusive economic zones.

Outgoing Lebanese Foreign Minister Charbel Wehbi said the Lebanese negotiators would “be more violent than expected because we have nothing to lose”.

He added that if the Lebanese economy collapses, “there is no interest in making concessions”.

U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Middle East Affairs David Schenker, the top American diplomat for the Middle East, arrived in Lebanon Tuesday afternoon to attend the opening session of the talks.

Schenker will be accompanied by the American ambassador John Desrocher, who will act as the US mediator for these negotiations.