PARIS — Addressing journalists this evening in Jerusalem, Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid thanked his US and French counterparts Joe Biden and Emmanuel Macron for their "support, backing and assistance" in reaching the maritime agreement with Lebanon. It was the first time Lapid acknowledged publicly the role played by the French leader in concluding the deal. Defense Minister Benny Gantz said at the same press conference that Biden and also "other leaders" had contributed to reaching the agreement.
Just prior to Lapid's remarks, a source at the Elysée Palace spoke to Al-Monitor about France and French President Emmanuel Macron's role in the recently announced agreement.
According to the source, who spoke on condition of anonymity, France has been involved for several months now in the American-mediated talks, especially in the last 10 days when negotiations accelerated. Macron, said the source, discussed the issue with Israel’s Prime Minister Yair Lapid on several occasions, including in person, at their July Paris meeting and also over the phone.
The source explained that senior French diplomats have been in constant contact with their Israeli and Lebanese counterparts, with the American mediator Amos Hochstein, with the political branch of Hezbollah, and also with Lebanese leaders not necessarily directly involved in the talks but with influence in the relevant areas. France was involved in exchanging messages between the parties on their red lines and also concerning the final wordings of the agreement proposal.
Another facet of French involvement was its work with TotalEnergies — the French company that holds the rights for exploring and exploiting the future Kana maritime gas field. According to the agreement, most of the zone where Kana is located will be in Lebanese ownership. A small part of it will remain in Israel's hands. Jerusalem agreed for Lebanon/TotalEnergies to develop the Kana field. In exchange, Israel will receive some royalties, in correlation to its ownership part of the maritime zone. Paris, said the source, worked with TotalEnergies so that exploration and exploitation could proceed as soon as possible once Israel and Lebanon agree to the draft.
The first official sign of growing French involvement in the talks came on Oct. 8 in a statement made by the French Foreign Ministry. Addressing Lebanon’s objection to some of the wording of a draft presented to them by Hochstein, Paris called on both parties to "work" to reach an agreement on the delineation of their maritime border and assured it is "actively contributing" to the American-led indirect negotiations.
Israeli politicians, championed by opposition head Benjamin Netanyahu, have criticized the agreement, arguing that Lapid surrendered to Hezbollah’s demands. Senior Likud member Miri Regev blamed Paris for allegedly conspiring with Hezbollah to bring about the deal. Regev tweeted yesterday, "Now it is clear why Lapid flew so many times to France quietly and under the radar. No Shin Bet, no security, alone. Lapidistan. The sponsor of this deal with Hezbollah is the French oil company Total which works continuously with Iran."
Asked by Al-Monitor about these allegations, the Elysée source reiterated that Hezbollah had made the choice of negotiation, which is much better, whatever its motives are, than the choice of violence. The source added that France will continue its dialogue with Hezbollah, which contributes to the quest after security and peace in the region. The source refused to address Netanyahu’s allegations specifically, saying only that during election campaigns all sorts of statements are made, which are not necessarily followed once the campaign is over.
As abovementioned, until the press conference this evening, Lapid and also the Israeli Foreign Ministry have been discrete over the role Paris has played in reaching the deal with Iran. Unnamed Israeli officials quoted in French media acknowledged yesterday the central part Macron played in the negotiations, saying the French president deserves credit for his important contribution. The officials said that the excellent personal relationship between Macron and Lapid had once again proven to be of huge benefit for both countries. Macron and Lapid enjoy a close relationship, with Lapid referring to the French leader on numerous occasions as a friend and an ally of Israel.