The Egyptian regime has signed a long-gestating deal to begin importing natural gas from Israel. The Financial Times reported this week that Israeli company Delek has signed a deal to supply 64 billion cubic metres of gas over a decade to Egypt’s Dolphinus. The deal is reported to be worth some $15 billion.
According to Bloomberg, the gas will come from the Tamar and Leviathan fields in the Mediterranean, over which Israel claims sovereignty. Shares of Israeli gas companies apparently soared in reaction to the news.
The deal caps a long-running and farcical saga over gas collaboration between the Egyptian dictatorship and the Israeli apartheid regime. As I reported back in 2014, the regime in Cairo and its billionaire lackeys have for years been involved in utterly corrupt natural gas transactions with Israeli elites.
As a former US ambassador to Egypt explained in a 2014 Al-Jazeera investigative documentary, this was all done as a way to shore-up the unjust “peace” treaty between Tel Aviv and Cairo. The Camp David accords did help to facilitate the withdrawal of Israeli occupation forces and settlements from the Sinai Peninsula, albeit after Sadat had launched the 1973 war, in which had come close to a victory which would have let him regain the occupied Egyptian land.
However, Camp David contained unjust provisions which stipulate a certain demilitarisation of the Sinai, while containing no reciprocal conditions for the Israelis. Furthermore, Camp David offered nothing concrete for the Palestinian people, who remain under Israeli occupation in the Gaza Strip and West Bank. At the time of its signing, the Egyptian regime was slammed widely across the Arab world for selling out the Palestinians in the way that it did.
For all these reasons, the treaty is widely unpopular with the Egyptian people. Like Jordan, though — which also has a peace treaty with Israel — Egypt is a brutal military dictatorship in all but name, and the will of the people does not matter much to the regime.
The former US ambassador speaking to Al-Jazeera was Edward Walker. His comments in the documentary about the corrupt gas deal were telling: “It is the kind of agreement that was helping to cement the Egypt-Israel [peace] treaty and that’s why we were always very positive about it without getting into the whole corruption side of it.”
It seems that a little light corruption is par for the course when it comes to the imposition of US imperial hegemony in the region.
The deal, which originated as long ago as 2000, involved the massive and deliberate under-selling of Egyptian natural gas to Israel. As one former Israeli energy minister later admitted, “The prices were ridiculous.”
The loss to the Egyptian public purse may have been as much as $11 billion, according to some experts. Israel was allowed to get away with this because crooked Egyptian businessmen were given control over the sale of the gas, and were able to pocket a huge cut of the profits.
Sameh Fahmi, Egypt’s Minister of Petroleum between 1999 and 2011, was arrested for his role in the deal soon after the January 2011 uprising that overthrew former dictator Hosni Mubarak. In June 2012 he was sentenced to 15 years in jail but, after the 2013 military coup (which overthrew Egypt’s first elected president, Mohamed Morsi), Sameh and others involved in this massive corruption scandal had their sentences overturned.
One major factor behind the 2011 uprising was this blatantly corrupt gas sell-off to Israel, which most Egyptians (correctly) regard as a hostile entity, despite the “peace” treaty.
Hussein Salem – a former intelligence agent, and co-architect of the deal – had to flee Egypt during the uprising. He was later arrested in Spain, but was never extradited. He was convicted in absentia and sentenced to 15 years in jail at the same trial as Fahmi.
This sentence was also overturned after the military coup. Still living in Spain, Salem was recently reported to have a net worth of around £2.8 billion.
Salem’s Israeli partner was former intelligence agent and energy tycoon Yossi Maiman. After the 2011 uprising, security instability in the Sinai led to sabotage of the gas pipeline to Israel. Maiman attempted to sue Egypt for loss of revenue, bragging to Al-Jazeera that he would “settle for $50 billion”. It’s a telling sign of just how much influence the “deep states” in both countries actually have, that Israeli and Egyptian intelligence assets were given control over that deal.
With legal differences apparently behind them, the gas pipeline now seems set to be turned back on, in the opposite direction. It looks as if Egypt will be buying back – at full market rates no doubt – natural resources that it could have used to enrich and develop the country’s infrastructure for the benefit of its own population, instead of just for a tiny mega-rich and corrupt elite.
The way that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reacted to the news about the billions in tax revenues the new deal will provide to his regime tells you all you need to know. “This is a joyous day,” he is reported to have said.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.