(photo credit: Courtesy)
Israel has gradually boosted naval patrols around its east Mediterranean natural gas fields for fear of guerrilla attacks and as maritime rivalry with Turkey deepens, an Israeli official said on Monday.
Missile boats have stepped up missions around the Tamar and Leviathan platforms over the past year, as well as coordination with private security firms contracted by the US-Israeli exploration consortium, the official said.
Analysis: Waters roil in Eastern Mediterranean
"We have replicated the arrangements already in place at Yam Tethys," the official said, referring to another Israeli gas field 40 km (25 miles) off southern Ashkelon port, near the waters of Gaza.
Tamar and Leviathan, in which Israel sees a potential pipeline to energy independence, are around twice and three times as far out to sea, respectively. That challenges Israel's small navy, which is more accustomed to close coastal patrols.
The Israeli military's newspaper Bamahane
said the navy was undergoing expansion including the appointment of a
commodore to handle the induction of two more German-made submarines and
address "the new need to protect the drilling rigs".Bamahane
did not elaborate, but
experts have long voiced concern that Tamar and Leviathan could be
targeted by Lebanese Hezbollah guerrillas given Beirut's complaints at
what it deems Israel's unilateral exploration in the absence of an
agreed maritime border. The two countries are technically at war.
"One danger is a proximity attack, by frogmen, by boats, by terrorists
in some fashion," Giora Eiland, a former Israeli national security
adviser, told the Globes business journal in May.
"Another, bigger challenge is how to face the threat of missiles,
because today you can launch missiles from tens of kilometres away," he
Israel and Cyprus, which is doing its own drilling for eastern
Mediterranean gas in consortium with Texas-based Noble Energy, are also
mindful of Turkey's naval assertiveness in the area.
NATO-member Turkey, which pledged in September to send in more frigates
and torpedo boats, says any natural resources found off Cyprus should be
shared with the island's breakaway ethnic-Turkish north, a state
recognized solely by Ankara.
Turkey's Islamist-rooted government also described the naval
reinforcements as a precaution against Israel intercepting
pro-Palestinian sympathizers who attempt to sail to blockaded Gaza, as
it did in 2010, killing nine Turks.
The Israeli official confirmed that the new safeguards around Tamar and
Leviathan came in response to the perceived Hezbollah threat, but was
more circumspect about the face-off with Turkey, formerly Israel's
stalwart Muslim ally.
"We are keeping up with all the challenges of operating in the eastern Mediterranean," the official said.
Tamar and Leviathan, from which Israel predicts at least $150 billion in
gas revenues, are scheduled to begin pumping in 2013 and 2017
respectively. Yam Tethys is currently Israel's only working rig.