Slow progress on the part of national security authorities to legislate measures for protecting Israel’s offshore gas facilities have left existing sites vulnerable to risk, the State Comptroller Joseph Shapira determined in his latest report.
“The discoveries of gas in the economic waters of Israel are of immense economic and strategic value to the Israeli economy, and therefore the gas facilities are likely to serve as targets to hostile states and terrorist organizations,” Shapira wrote. “Hezbollah secretary-general Hassan Nasrallah has even explicitly threatened to harm the gas rigs of Israel.
Harm to gas facilities would likely have significant economic and strategic impacts upon Israel, and also may discourage international companies from conducting their gas reservoir discovery and production operations, causing considerable disruption to normal life in Israel.”
In November 2010, a National Security Council team began work on formulating a proposal for the Ministerial Committee on National Security Affairs as to which bodies or authorities will be responsible for protecting the Mediterranean gas facilities and means required for them to do so, according to the state comptroller.
Despite initial commitments to completing the proposal during the first quarter of 2011, the team submitted the plans to the Ministerial Committee only in April 2013, and the committee granted approval – in decision 53-bet – only on November 13 of that year, the State Comptroller’s Report explained.
The decision mandates that the IDF must “operate toward protecting the vital interests of the State of Israel in the energy sector in the exclusive economic zone area” and details “territorial defense system capacities in the economic waters and the budget for establishing and operating this system,” the report said.
When work began on formulating a plan in 2010, the National Security Council team members were aware of the ongoing threats to existing and future offshore rigs, as well as the extensive time needed in order for the IDF to improve its protective capabilities of these facilities, the state comptroller explained.
Yet despite the urgency surrounding the protection of these facilities, the National Security Council team first presented its plans to the Ministerial Committee only in April 2013.
“Considering the real threat on the gas facilities at sea and in light of the fact that the Tamar rig began supplying gas in April 2013, the National Security Council should have required this subject to be more intensely promoted,” Shapira wrote.
“Moreover, the documents show that the National Security Council itself determined that ‘we must not delay the establishment of operational response.’” Due to the lack of a decision in place, facilities were therefore already operating without a clearly defined protection scheme and therefore were doing so under much risk, according to the report.
The State Comptroller’s Office also criticized the National Security Council team for failing to evaluate and present to the Ministerial Committee a series of alternative plans presented to them by the IDF, stressing that it would have been important for ministers to compare the cost and operational benefits associated with a variety of programs.
Another problematic issue identified by the report was the idea that because offshore gas facilities are not expressly defined as “essential facilities” by the 1967 Emergency Services Law, it is impossible to require security forces – such as reserve fighter units – to operate there in cases of emergency.
In addition, the IDF’s activities toward protecting the offshore exploration facilities still remain “incomplete” due to the insufficient means available to the army to accomplish this task, the report stressed.
The state comptroller urged the IDF to act according to decision 53-bet and begin reducing risk to these facilities as much as possible.
“In practice, the protection provided by the navy to gas facilities in the area, correct up to the date of the audit, December 2013, is incomplete,” Shapira wrote.
In response, the IDF Spokesman’s Office said the IDF welcomes the report and will be studying its main points. Acknowledging that the decision of the Ministerial Committee on National Security Affairs tasks the navy with protecting the country’s “vital interests in its economic waters,” the IDF presented the committee with plans to fulfill this task, the spokesman’s office explained. Some mechanisms of a future system would include surface ships, security ships, unarmed aerial vehicles and intelligence collectors.
“Meanwhile, and in accordance with the decision of the committee, the navy performs its tasks through the means at its disposal and conducts tours in the defense territory that was defined based on various, periodical situation evaluations,” the IDF Spokesman’s Office said.