Natural gas resources in the Mediterranean Sea will become a principal reason for conflicts in the region between Israel and its allies on the one hand and the neighbouring Arab countries on the other, experts forecast.
This would be similar to the conflict over water resources in the region, and would reshape regional and international alliances on a primarily economic basis.
Natural gas fields located in the Mediterranean Sea are of growing importance to the region, in particular Israel, for the gas’ use as a low cost source of electricity, economists agreed.
Reserves recently discovered in the eastern Mediterranean region represent a golden opportunity and valuable wealth for the entire region including Egypt, Israel, Turkey, Cyprus, Lebanon, Syria and Palestine. This may lead to conflicts and fierce competition as each country tries to acquire the largest portion of this natural wealth, particularly in light of the absence of a clear agreement on the maritime borders of their respective economic zones.
Israel recently intensified its military and strategic cooperation with Greece and Cyprus. Analysts interpreted this as a sign of prospective tripartite strategic partnership among the three nations aiming at monopolising the massive gas resources in the eastern Mediterranean and forcibly appropriating them at the expense of Arab countries and Turkey.
Sources revealed Israeli Minister of Defense Moshe Ya’alon signed a warships deal with Germany to protect gas fields and installations in the Mediterranean.
Economic expert Maher Al-Tabaa asserted that Israel seeks to extend its control over Palestinian resources, including gas fields, due to their strategic importance. Al-Tabaa cited tireless efforts by Israel to freeze the agreement held between the Palestinian Authority and the British Gas Group to explore gas in the field adjacent to Gaza shores.
Al-Tabaa highlighted genuine Israeli fears of potential attacks on its gas fields and mines in the sea, which prompted it to protect them with modern military arsenal. He added it is highly likely that gas would ignite new conflicts, particularly the wells located on joint borders in Gaza, Lebanon, or Egypt.
He interpreted the gas agreement between Egypt and Israel as an attempt by the latter to drain Egyptian gas fields, to guarantee its superiority in the region.
Al-Tabaa said that the current status of the natural gas field located off the Gaza shores remains “ambiguous”, eight years after the agreement with the British company was frozen. He pointed out that the agreement in its current status partially guarantees the Palestinian Authority’s rights in the gas well.
The strategic natural gas inventory in the Israeli-controlled fields is estimated at 950 billion cubic meters (bcm), which would guarantee a return of $60 billion (£36.8 billion) for the Israeli budget over the next two decades.
A number of Israeli security officials are concerned about the possibility of militant attacks from Sinai or Gaza targeting the newly discovered gas fields in the eastern Mediterranean. Perhaps these concerns explain the Israeli government’s decision to assign Unit 13 in its naval forces the responsibility of protecting natural gas fields and exploration operations in the Mediterranean.
Economic expert Omar Shaaban points out that natural gas started to emerge as a major element in the ongoing conflicts in a number of regions. He says natural gas might be one of the reasons of the war in Syria and one of the international community’s motives behind intervention in this matter.
Shaaban asserted that the economic element has overtaken the security and political elements as a factor of reshaping global and regional alliances. He cited the gas imports agreement signed by the Energy Authority in Ramallah to supply natural gas over a period of twenty years for the energy power plant which is yet to be established as proof of this.
Moreover, he stressed the keenness of Israel to secure its stockpiles of natural gas and protect its fields and wells from any potential attacks, pointing to the existence of a real dispute over a number of gas wells in the Mediterranean between Israel, Lebanon and Cyprus.
Shaaban predicted that the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea would interfere to settle the ownership of disputed gas fields, ruling out that Israel would allow any company to work on these fields based on an agreement with the Lebanese government and its intention to explore gas in those fields.
Shaaban highlighted the ongoing negotiations between Israel and Palestine to purchase natural gas discovered off the Gaza shores, amidst the media cover-up imposed by Palestinian leadership.
Natural gas fields are considered one of the most important marine resources discovered by Israel 10 years ago. Israeli economists estimated the value of those resources at tens of billions of US dollars, which will revive the Israeli economy as a result of the expected revenues.
Throughout the past five years, a number of gas fields have been discovered in the Mediterranean. They include Aphrodite, Tamar, and Leviathan fields. The Tamar field was discovered in 2009. It is located 50km (31m) to the west of Haifa, and contains 250 bcm of natural gas. Experts say that the Tamar field would be sufficient for Israel’s needs for 20-30 years.