(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
The prospect of a major natural gas transaction with British Gas (BG) and the Palestinians could be a factor in the government's refusal to authorize an extensive, Defensive Shield II-style ground operation against terrorist infrastructure in the Gaza Strip, former IDF chief of staff Lt.-Gen. (res.) Moshe Ya'alon said in an article published this weekend on the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs Web site.
According to Ya'alon, British Gas and its local partners - the Palestinian Authority and the Palestinian-owned Consolidated Contractors Company (CCC) - are currently negotiating to sell Israel large quantities of natural gas from a reserve BG discovered off the Gaza coast in 2000. The gas deposit comprises almost 1.4 trillion cubic feet and is valued at some $4 billion.
Ya'alon argued that in addition to providing a motive not to send the IDF into Gaza to address Kassam rocket and mortar attacks perpetrated by terror groups against Israel, the natural gas deal presented other risks for Israel: First, the money from the purchase would most likely wind up in the hands of terror organizations rather than the impoverished Palestinian population. Second, he said, groups such as the Islamic Jihad might be prompted to attack any gas installation belonging to a company selling to Israel.
Meanwhile, Ya'alon wrote, the British appear to have made British Gas negotiations with Israel a cornerstone of their Middle East policy. Ya'alon quoted a report published in the Arabic Al-Quds newspaper in September that said the UK saw Gaza's natural gas reserves as "central to 10 Downing Street's 'economic road map' for the Middle East region."
Ya'alon added that Tony Blair - as former prime minister and Quartet Middle East envoy - believes that the Palestinian Authority's revenue from the natural gas sale - which could total over $1b. - could jump-start the dragging Palestinian economy and ultimately help move the peace process forward.
The former IDF chief called the belief of British officials that any money from the gas sale could bypass Hamas by being deposited in international bank accounts "mistaken." He also disagreed with an Israeli proposal to pay for the gas in goods and services, saying that any gas transaction with the Palestinian Authority would, "by definition involve Hamas."
"Hamas will either benefit from the royalties or it will sabotage the project and launch attacks against Fatah, the gas installations, Israel - or all three," Ya'alon wrote.