Israel caught between EU, Russian bids for gas deal

Recent findings of natural resources in Israel works to benefit international relations.

Map of Oil 521 (photo credit:
Map of Oil 521
(photo credit:
Israel’s recent discovery of massive natural gas deposits off its coast promises to be a windfall that will soon transform the nation and its place in the region, but the effort to quickly develop the infrastructure needed to get that gas to foreign markets has drawn Jerusalem into a diplomatic tug-of-war between the power blocs of Europe, Russia and China.
The Christian Edition has learned that Israeli officials are involved in negotiations with regional partners Cyprus and Greece to decide which of these foreign powers will be brought in to help extract the vast amounts of natural gas and what markets the gas will eventually reach, with the likely winners being the European Union and China.
The fields holding the deposits of natural gas are so large that they overlap into the territorial waters and exclusive economic zones of Israel’s neighbors, especially Cyprus. Lebanon has also claimed rights to an exclusive zone which cuts into the aptly named “Leviathan” field discovered almost 37 miles northwest of Haifa. Beirut has appealed to the United Nations to recognize its claim, even while Hezbollah – the main power broker in Lebanon – has threatened to enforce its claim by resorting to arms.
The picture is further complicated by the long and bitter division of Cyprus, as the southern two-thirds of the island is administered by the internationally recognized Greekspeaking government in Nicosia, while the northern one-third has been under Turkish military occupation since 1974. Thus, Ankara has been demanding that the “Republic of Northern Cyprus” be granted its fair share of the natural gas bounty and is also making explicit threats to defend its position with military force if necessary.
In September, media reports indicated that Israel and Cyprus had cut a deal with Russia making it a partner in extracting and delivering the gas, in part to help hold Turkey at bay. Moscow, in turn, was reportedly angling to maintain its monopoly on natural gas exports to the European Union and to engage potential new allies in the Middle East should the Assad regime in Syria collapse.
However, a senior Israeli official has told The Christian Edition that “this is not a done deal yet with Russia, and other options are still under consideration. The Russians have been really pushing for a partnership in developing our gas fields, but the Europeans were not happy with the arrangement.”
The government source, who asked not to be named, added that there will be a trilateral meeting in early November between the energy ministers of Cyprus, Greece and Israel “to arrive at a decision by this core group of partners on how these natural gas fields will be developed and reach the market.”
“It makes sense for the gas to go through Cyprus to Greece and then on to Europe,” he stated. “It will help Greece get out of its financial troubles, as there will be a plant to liquefy the gas at the Greek end of the underwater pipeline. Europe wants this. And we do, too.”
However, he added, “the Russians want in and the Chinese and Koreans want in, and that’s without even mentioning the Americans. Yet our experts say there is enough quantity of natural gas deposits offshore for two pipelines, one to the West and one to the East. But Israel first wants to set up the western supply line to Europe.”
The plan to export gas to the Far East would probably involve linking to and upgrading an existing gas pipeline from Ashkelon to Eilat and building a liquefied natural gas plant in Eilat, along with terminals and other infrastructure. China and South Korea are both very interested in investing in the project, according to the source, and are also prepared to help Israel build a rail line from Eilat to the port of Ashdod to sweeten the deal. This would allow Israel to fulfill not only the longtime ambition of developing the Negev but also the relatively new goal of building a highspeed freight train line to compete with the Suez Canal for shipping traffic between Europe and Asia.
The trilateral meeting in November will be the latest in a series of developments that started a few years ago when news broke that drilling tests had uncovered massive fields of natural gas under the sea bed in the waters off Israel’s coast.
The discovery turned the tables on the old joke ascribed to Golda Meir that Moses had led the Children of Israel to the one place in the Middle East that did not have any oil.
Following the discovery of the Tamar and Leviathan mega-fields in the Mediterranean – the largest natural gas finds in over a decade – geologists have more recently announced preliminary findings that indicate the presence of vast amounts of petroleum trapped in rock layers beneath the Holy Land itself. This shale oil is expensive and technically difficult to extract, but in a world where the demand for energy is projected only to increase in the decades to come, the shale oil deposits are looking increasingly viable.
The World Energy Council has issued a preliminary estimate that Israel might contain as much as 250 billion barrels of potentially recoverable shale oil, the third largest such reserves in the world behind the US and China, putting Israel on a par with Saudi Arabia in terms of its potential oil reserves.
Analysts have speculated that if the gas and oil finds pan out as expected, Israel’s current array of allies, trading partners and enemies could drastically change, as could the geo-strategic map of the entire region.
This was in evidence during a recent visit to Jerusalem by Russian President Vladimir Putin, who, during a special stop at the Western Wall in the Old City, ran his hands over the ancient hewn blocks and declared: “Here we see how the Jewish past is etched into the stones of Jerusalem.”
The visit drew angry reactions from several Arab governments, who routinely deny the existence of any Jewish connection to the Land and Jerusalem in particular.
But other nations great and small are now having to reassess their relations with Israel, and many have started softening their tone toward the Jewish State as the sheer volume of energy resources it might soon control becomes more apparent, even as the rest of the region continues its descent into chaos.