In just a few weeks, Israel plans on extracting gas from the “Tamar” and “Leviathan” gas fields, which were discovered dozens of kilometers into the waters northwest of Haifa. The gas reserves in these two fields are very large, and are considered the two largest offshore reserves discovered in the last decade. The financial value of these discoveries is estimated at about $200 billion, as both reserves are estimated to contain about 1480 billion square meters of gas. These discoveries are predicted to contribute significantly to improving Israel’s capabilities in the field of electricity generation and it is predicted that in less than 10 years, it is expected to be produce 90% of its electricity using gas. The gas discoveries will also give the industrial sector in Israel a big push.
The new gas discoveries represent, as decision-makers in Tel Aviv see it, compensation for Egypt’s decision to call off its agreement to sell Egyptian gas to Israel. We must point out that Israel was saving billions of dollars annually due to the terms of this very profitable agreement whereby Egypt sold it gas for a third of its value on the international market.
On the other hand, in light of recent transformations in the Arab world, Israel assumes that the waterways that the energy sources will be transported though will not be safe. Moreover, decision-makers in Tel Aviv believe that closing water crossings important to Israel will be one of the punitive measures the Arabs will resort to as a response to what they consider to be hostile Israeli behaviour. In Tel Aviv, they suppose this assumption to be realistic, considering it may be one of the changes in Arab behaviour towards Israel as a result of the revolutions in the Arab Spring.
Therefore, Israel has been insistent on depending on self-sufficient energy sources that lessen their need to use waterways in the phase after the Arab revolutions. What is known as the Bureau for Counter Terrorism within the Office of the Prime Minister expressed its concerns about the global Jihad movements targeting ships transporting energy sources to Israel and considered that the size and capabilities of Israeli naval arms are not sufficient to protect Israeli ships moving through the different waterways. However, it is certain that one of the most important aspects of strategic planning in relation to the gas discoveries is Israel’s endeavour to use it to lessen the indications of the regional isolation it is experiencing following the Arab revolutions and as a result of the weakening and withdrawal of the U.S role in the region.
For example, there are those in Israel who say that the international environment for Israel can be improved by appealing to Russia and depending on gas exports. Based on this logic, a partnership can be made between Israel and Russia by cooperating to find joint markets for the gas. In Tel Aviv, they believe that Russian President Putin’s attachment to energy economies in particular will make him agree to establish a strategic partnership with Israel without any reservations. And, according to this logic, the foundations of this partnership will make Israel an influential regional power, and will make many countries accept relations with it, lessening the indications of its regional isolation.
Israel has made a step towards this, as Netanyahu’s government has taken advantage of Iran’s severing of contracts to supply India with gas. It sent its Minister of Finance, Yuval Steinitz, to offer the Indian officials a proposal for Israel to fill the gap resulting from Iran’s halt of gas supply to India. This is despite the fact that it hasn’t completed its project to extract gas from the discovered fields. However, an agreement to form a joint Israeli-Indian committee was made in order to study the terms and conditions of supplying India with Israeli gas.
It is apparent that Israel’s purpose for taking this step is not only for financial gain, but also aims mainly at achieving strategic gains. The dependence of a rising international power such as India on Israeli gas will enhance the Israel’s international status. At the same time, the gas discoveries fall in with Israeli security principles, which assert “Israel’s” need to lessen its import of strategic raw material, including energy sources. This is considering that the geo-political situation does not allow “Israel’s” acquisition of strategic raw materials to be affected by the prevalent security and political situation in the region due to the hostility between it and the Arab world.
Needless to say, financial revenues from gas discoveries will enable Israel to increase its security expenses in light of the Arab Spring revolutions. We must also take into consideration that the preliminary evaluations indicate that Israel will need tens of billions of dollars to rebuild its military force in order to face the challenges resulting from these revolutions.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.