Last week, Israel took a significant step toward energy independence, as the Leviathan rig began extracting gas from the bottom of the Mediterranean Sea.It was years coming and the culmination of a long process that included petitions to the High Court, injunctions, mass protests, fights with regulators, government committees and traditional but frustrating Israeli bureaucracy. There is genuine concern for the residents of the coastline who live not far from the rig. Places like Zichron Ya’acov, where the rig can be seen from people’s living rooms and bedrooms. They fear that carcinogenic fumes and toxins will fly into the air that they breathe – even if the government has assured them that the air is safe.Nevertheless, this moment should be celebrated by all Israelis. Israel first found gas about 20 years ago. The Tamar field was the first significant find in 2009; it started production four years later, in 2013, putting the country on the road to independence and saving the economy about NIS 1 billion in energy costs.In 2010, Noble Energy, a US-based energy company, announced that it had found a new gas field. They called it Leviathan – after the huge biblical sea-monster; it is far larger than Tamar. It took some time, but on Tuesday it started to extract gas and is already supplying Jordan – as well as, of course, Israel.Projections are that the money from the gas sales – in royalties, taxes and more – will bring hundreds of billions of shekels into Israel’s state coffers. If used right, the money could be used to build new hospitals, upgrade existing ones, refurbish dilapidated schools, and upgrade the nation’s transportation infrastructure.“Completion of the Leviathan gas platform and the pumping of gas from this field later in the year is a critical component of the strategic, energy, economic and diplomatic strength of the State of Israel,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said last year. “This is a great revolution – we are turning the State of Israel into an energy power. An independent Israel will not depend on anyone for its energy needs.”On Thursday, Netanyahu flew with Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz to Athens for talks with his Greek and Cypriot counterparts about plans to build a pipeline that will allow Israel to export gas to Europe. The ambitious pipeline is one of the European Union’s “Projects of Common Interest.” Planned to be 1,900 km. long, it will reach from Israeli economic waters to Greece, via Cyprus. On the western Greek mainland, the pipeline will connect to the planned Poseidon Pipeline, co-financed by the EU, and will run from the Greek-Turkish border to Italy.By 2025, the pipeline will be able to transport 10 billion cubic meters of natural gas annually from Israeli and Cypriot gas fields, and is projected to eventually reach double that amount.There are many obstacles to overcome before this pipeline begins operations, but the progress Israel has already made is of extreme significance. Considering Israel’s journey as a state since it was established in 1948, this is beyond impressive.Israel has long been a military superpower in the Middle East as well as a global hi-tech powerhouse. It can now add energy power to that list, providing the tiny Jewish state with greater ability to project its power within the immediate region and beyond.It gives Israel new stature in the continued diplomatic standoff with Turkey and provides the country with greater importance and clout among its Arab neighbors, who need the Jewish state now more than ever. This is not just because of the role Israel is playing in the fight against Iran, but also because they, too, are in dire need for cheap energy – and now Israel has it.The Middle East is changing. Iran, facing maximum pressure and tough sanctions from the United States, is fighting to remain relevant as it encounters continued difficulties in exporting its oil to countries across the globe. The Islamic Republic might seem strong with its continued provocations, but it is actually declining.Israel, on the other hand, is on the rise. Leviathan is a clear illustration of how that is happening.