US President Joe Biden, in his call with Prime Minister Yair Lapid on Wednesday, "emphasized the importance" of resolving the maritime border dispute between Israel and Lebanon in the coming week, the White House said in a readout of the call, according to Barak Ravid of Axios.
US energy envoy Amos Hochstein, who is mediating between the two countries, is expected to visit Beirut and Jerusalem next week in an effort to reach a deal in the dispute, Israeli officials told Ravid.
During his call with Lapid on Wednesday, Biden raised the maritime border dispute and said Hochstein will arrive in the region in the coming days, an Israeli official said.
In 2021, official discussions commenced between representatives of Israel and Lebanon, with the aim of reaching an agreement on their maritime border.
There have been major natural gas discoveries off the coasts of both countries during the last decade, and the border dispute has halted gas exploration in an area that has attracted the interest of US energy companies.
The talks were initiated after Lebanon signed its first contract to drill for oil and gas off its coast with a consortium comprising energy giants Total, ENI and Novatek, including in a block disputed by Israel.
Israel says one of two blocks in the eastern Mediterranean where Lebanon wants to drill for oil belongs to it, and had denounced any exploration by Beirut as "provocative".
The Lebanese government has objected to the arrival of a vessel operated by London-based Energean off the Mediterranean coast to develop the Karish field.
Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah has called the beginning of production in the Karish rig red line. He recently threatened an “escalation” if Lebanon does not get what it wants in the US-mediated maritime border negotiations with Israel.
The rig won’t come online before the end of September, according to Israeli officials. That gives more time to reach an agreement.
Israeli officials told Ravid on Wednesday that Hochstein visited Paris this week for talks with French officials about the maritime dispute.
France is one of the Western countries with the most influence on Lebanon and maintains a close relationship with Israel.
A White House official said Wednesday that resolving the dispute is a "key priority" for the Biden administration.
"We continue to narrow the gaps between the parties and believe a lasting compromise is possible," the official said, adding that Hochstein is in daily communication with Israeli and Lebanese officials.