From the forties of the twentieth century, the Lebanese scene returned to a forgotten historical tunnel, the situation of the country living in a critical phase, with a new border conflict open to two ends: either signs of prosperity and development, or a fierce and destructive war.
The raising of this file coincides with attempts to reach a solution to the maritime border demarcation crisis between Lebanon and Israel, by reviving the negotiations file between the two countries.
At its inception, the talks were supposed to be limited to a maritime area estimated at 860 square kilometers, the borders of which are defined by Line 23, based on a map sent by Lebanon in 2011 to the United Nations.
However, Lebanon later considered that the map was based on wrong estimates, and demanded that an additional 1,430 square kilometers be searched, including parts of the Karish field, known as line 29.
The Qana field is located in an area where Line 23 intersects with Line 1, the line deposited by Israel to the United Nations, and extends further than Line 23.
The Naqoura Tunnel, which separates Lebanon and Israel, which is disputed between the two parties, has taken the top spot in the country’s political and security scene once again, after it became clear that it had a prominent role in the ongoing maritime border negotiations between the two countries, which are being mediated by the United States. Gas from the sea, each within its own offshore economic zone.
During his visit to the town of Naqoura in southern Lebanon, the Lebanese Minister of Public Works and Transport, Ali Hamiya, who is calculated from Hezbollah’s ministerial share in the Lebanese government, stopped at the entrance to an old stone railway tunnel, on the Lebanese side of the “Ras al-Naqoura” area, whose excavation dates back to The era of the British Mandate, as the Beirut-Acre railways, which were used by the Allies during World War II to provide supplies and supplies, crossed from it.
Hamiya accused Israel of “occupying a large area of it,” and demanded the return of “every inch of it, as it is subject to the property of the Ministry of Public Works and Transport.”
The Lebanese minister confirmed that the length of the tunnel is 690 meters and the surrounding area is 1,800 square meters, according to a study prepared by the Lebanese Ministry of Public Works.
He added: “We will not leave the tunnel to anyone, and we want tourism investment in our entire border lands in the Ras Al-Naqoura area, and we are working on preparing a book of conditions to launch tourism investment projects through a global bid for tourism investment and the establishment of marine cable cars and tourist resorts, and we are thus drawing a new equation with the Israeli enemy.” “.
Hamiyah’s statements, which once again shed light on the Naqoura Tunnel, were accompanied by a media and social media campaign by Hezbollah supporters to demand the restoration of the tunnel, accusing Israel of preventing Lebanon from benefiting from its rights to its lands.
It is a connection and synchronization that does not seem spontaneous, given the great importance that Hezbollah attaches to the Naqoura border area, which has historically witnessed border and security negotiations between the Lebanese and Israeli sides mediated by the United Nations through the “UNIFIL” forces.
Hezbollah attached the step of its minister to a meeting and a tour of media professionals, public figures and clerics, in the Ras Al-Naqoura area, at the invitation of the “National Media Meeting”, one of the media gatherings supporting the party under the title “Our wealth is a red line”, with the aim of shedding light on the existing and emerging border conflict. Naqoura Tunnel.
And it does not seem that the activity will be the last, as the Minister of Culture in the Lebanese government, Muhammad Al-Murtada, who is in turn calculated on Hezbollah’s ministerial share, announced the organization of a cruise on the thirteenth of next August, which will depart from all Lebanese ports in the direction of “Ras Al-Naqoura”, confirming the Lebanon’s right to its entire marine wealth,
Al-Murtada stressed that the Ministry of Culture’s adoption and sponsorship of this event stems from its duties “to spread awareness and a culture of steadfastness, especially in the face of attempts to usurp rights, including our rights in our marine wealth.”
escalation and threat
This comes after Hezbollah escalated its stance towards Israel, against the backdrop of the approaching date of gas extraction, which it announced next September, even if the negotiations on demarcating the maritime borders with Lebanon were not resolved.
The leader of Hezbollah, Hassan Nasrallah, threatened a military confrontation and prevented the extraction and sale of gas from all of Israel, if the conflict was not resolved by negotiations and if the gas exploration companies did not start their work on the Lebanese side, in turn offering a deadline until September, which caused Hezbollah to retreat from its position Previous.
This came after weeks of a remarkable military escalation by Hezbollah, which was represented in sending 3 reconnaissance planes – shot down by Israel – over the Karish natural gas field, which Lebanon claims for a part of which falls within its border area, and also demands, in exchange for its abandonment, that Israel give up another disputed field It is called “Kana”.
The Israeli army shot down three unarmed Hezbollah drones this month that were flying over the Karish field in the Mediterranean.
The party, which is classified on the terrorist list in the United States and Israel, preempted the visit of the American energy envoy, Amos Hochstein, on Sunday, to Lebanon, by publishing a video in which he threatened to target the Karish field, which Israel considers within its maritime economic zone.
The clip, which was broadcast by the “Al-Manar” channel affiliated with Hezbollah and Iranian militias, showed footage from a drone, of boats filmed from drones above the gas field, and the clip ended with footage of a missile written on it in Arabic and Hebrew “in the goal,” according to the Associated Press.
Lebanon’s interim prime minister, Najib Mikati, criticized Hezbollah, saying the move could pose risks to the country.
On the other hand, Israel raised its security and military readiness in preparation for any developments, and its political and military leaders threatened a harsh response to any breach or attack on the part of Hezbollah.
A spokeswoman for the Israeli Defense Ministry told Al-Hurra that “we don’t have anything about that (the video) at the moment.”
Effect on demarcation
It appears that the site of the Naqoura tunnel played a pivotal role in the maritime demarcation process, as it is located below a border point on which it was historically based to determine the end of Lebanon’s borders, called B1. According to what the former head of Lebanon’s negotiating delegation on the border with Israel confirms, retired Major General Abdel Rahman Sheheitli, in his interview with Al-Hurra website.
Sheheitly added: “The issue is not with the tunnel itself, but with the fact that it is located at the bottom of a hill that includes a border point called B1, which marks the beginning of the line defined by the Boullett-Newcombe agreement in 1923.” It is an agreement between the British and French governments on the basis of which the limits of the British Mandate and the French Mandate were set.
According to the retired Major General, “The Israeli side approached its border barrier to the interior of Lebanon after its withdrawal from southern Lebanon in 2000, and closed the tunnel with a concrete wall from the Lebanese side, and in parallel established a maritime line to its borders, inside Lebanese waters, and refused to back down from these encroachments throughout the previous border negotiations that we were in We demand that he retract his transgressions.”
He continued, “When the UNIFIL commander asked previously, to teach the border “blue line”, we agreed from the Lebanese side to mark the border points on the “blue line” and not to teach the line itself, and it was agreed at that time on more than 300 border points that were marked, but the side The Israeli refused to teach point B1, which also represents the beginning of the armistice line signed between Lebanon and Israel in 1949, and insisted on this refusal.
Lebanon had previously addressed the United Nations in this regard in 2007, and Lebanon had reserved 13 border areas with Israel during indirect negotiations, including the Ras al-Naqoura point where Lebanon considers it to have 3,300 meters of its territory.
Years ago, at the request of the Lebanese authorities, a Lebanese military delegation visited that point, and confirmed the education that took place in 1923, which is a pyramid of rocks built at point B1, according to what Sheheitli confirms, adding: “But until today, the point has not been known. Officially, through which it is possible to infer Lebanon’s share of the tunnel area.
The former head of the Lebanese delegation negotiating the border with Israel explains that “the point from which the maritime demarcation begins is the last rock in the sea along the land border line. In the case of Lebanon, its maritime borders are supposed to start from parallel to point B1 towards the sea in a straight line.
Thus, starting with the demarcation of the maritime borders of Lebanon from point B1 would strengthen Lebanon’s position in the ongoing negotiations, bringing it closer to what is known as Line 29, which it had previously demanded without establishing it by an official decree with the United Nations regarding it as its official borders, which are still defined. According to what is known as Line 23, and thus entitles him to claim a share of the disputed “Karesh” gas field.
“Break down the wall”
After confirming the Lebanese Ministry of Public Works’ ownership of the Naqoura Tunnel, the Lebanese Minister of Public Works revealed to Al-Hurra that he had recently sent, according to the rules, an official letter to the Ministry of Defense, asking the Lebanese army to demolish the concrete wall that closes the tunnel door from the Lebanese side; “Because he is in Lebanese land and this tunnel is occupied, and I will go with this file until the end.”
Several parties accused the minister of raising the file at this time in order to serve the escalatory context adopted by Hezbollah recently, and it serves this purpose and not the goal of the Lebanese state in conducting negotiations, but rather complicating them.
Such a step, if taken by the Ministry of Defense or the leadership of the Lebanese army, without coordination with the Israeli side, would have a negative impact on the two parties who have so far avoided a military confrontation, or, at the very least, would have a negative impact on the maritime demarcation negotiations that have recently returned to activity.
However, Hamiyeh denies that there is an intention to escalate, and adds: “But it is possible that this file will constitute a strong point for the Lebanese negotiator, and because it is an advanced and occupied Lebanese border point, and therefore it will reflect positively on the Lebanese side.”
In contrast to the Lebanese insistence on raising this file, Israel, on the other hand, does not seem ready to give up the Ras Naqoura point (B1) due to the geographical importance of the area, as the Ras al-Naqoura point exposes part of the Israeli north, which may represent a security threat, in light of Hezbollah’s control of the border area from the Lebanese side.
Al-Hurra contacted the Israeli government spokesman for the Arab media for comment, and no response was received at the time of publication.
In this context, the Israeli political analyst, Roni Shalom, believes that the Ras Naqoura conflict brings back the memory of the former Shebaa Farms issue.
He said, “Every time they create another place to dispute it, and the reason is very clear… Without the war with Israel, how can Hezbollah justify its presence in Lebanon and its seizure?”
He pointed out that any Lebanese targeting of Karish field “would be considered a declaration of war”, “and the result will be targeting all the Lebanese leadership, not just the representatives of Hezbollah,” as he put it.
Hamiyah explains that the file also carries a purely touristic developmental dimension, which is also in the interest of the Lebanese side, “but first we have to liberate the tunnel,” according to what he says.
The area of Ras Al-Naqoura is gaining tourist importance as a result of its aesthetic and environmental nature, which is rich in attractions. The Israeli side had set up several tourism projects in that area, including a nature reserve with the possibility of roaming inside the rocky tunnels and water caves scattered there.
On the other hand, the area did not invest on the Lebanese side in this context, and according to the mayor of Naqoura, Abbas Awada, the Lebanese authorities neglected this area of tourist development, especially the archaeological tunnel, which “the Lebanese state did not attach any importance to, although it represents a very important attraction. For tourism, especially since it is the largest tunnel in Lebanon and has a historical character.”
In his speech to Al-Hurra, he added, “Naqoura is one of the unique coastal cities with its tourism, and a unique and very beautiful area where the sea and the mountain meet in an amazing scene. To take advantage of the natural beauty to attract tourism to it, and we are interested in it becoming projects there.”
The mayor of Naqoura asks, “Why do we not aspire for the tourist to stop here in southern Lebanon and say here is Ras Al-Naqoura, as he gets on the opposite side?” Pointing out that there is a road under this tunnel, within the Lebanese territory, dilapidated and cracked, “and therefore, at a minimum, it is possible to benefit from this tunnel as an alternative road that can be reclaimed.”
In this context, the Hebrew “Ynet” website stated that the Israeli negotiating team spoke to Hochstein through the Zoom application a few days ago, and the next day he referred to him an Israeli proposal to establish a line for the maritime border between the two countries.
The Israeli Energy Minister, Karen Hariri, said in an interview with the newspaper “Yediot Aharonot” a few days ago that “Israel has made a serious proposal.”
According to a senior Israeli official to the Hebrew website Ynet, the atmosphere in Israel is “cautiously optimistic” about the possibility of reaching an agreement in this round.
However, Shalom believes that “the solution is in Tehran, not Lebanon.” He said, “The solution is very simple…but Iran ordered Lebanon not to sign the agreement.”
The United States plays the role of mediator between Lebanon and Israel in the file demarcation of the border, and negotiations between the two sides began in 2020 and stopped in May 2021, following the expansion of the dispute over the disputed areas.
However, the Lebanese authorities returned last June and asked the American mediator, Amos Hochstein, to come to Beirut, the day after Israel sent a production and storage vessel that will work to extract gas from the Karish field, with the aim of discussing the completion of the maritime border demarcation negotiations.
Hezbollah doubts the impartiality of the American mediator and accuses him of siding with the Israeli side. It also claims that the United States is establishing an economic blockade on Lebanon, and in this context it prevents oil companies from exploring for gas within the Lebanese maritime areas.
Nasrallah’s recent threats affected the US side, by threatening to destabilize the region and prevent the arrival of Mediterranean gas to Europe, which it needs in the coming winter, after it stopped its dependence on Russian gas after the invasion of Ukraine.
For his part, US State Department spokesman Ned Price, in response to a question by Al-Hurra, avoided commenting on Nasrallah’s threats, saying: “We have seen these reports. We do not respond to threats. But we remain committed to facilitating negotiations between Lebanon and Israel.” to reach a decision on the delimitation of the maritime boundary.
Price stressed that “progress towards a solution can only be achieved through negotiations between the (Lebanese and Israeli) governments,” and welcomed “the consultative and frank spirit of the parties to reach a final decision that would lead to greater stability, security and prosperity for both Lebanon and Israel as well as the region.” ‘, believing that ‘a solution is possible’.
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