Israel in ‘weak countries club’ if it looks away while Cyprus acts – study

In six years, Israel has done nothing to challenge Cyprus's position that it may pump gas out of the Aphrodite-Yishai field.

An Israeli gas platform, controlled by a U.S.-Israeli energy group, is seen in the Mediterranean sea, some 15 miles (24 km) west of Israel's port city of Ashdod (photo credit: REUTERS/AMIR COHEN)
An Israeli gas platform, controlled by a U.S.-Israeli energy group, is seen in the Mediterranean sea, some 15 miles (24 km) west of Israel's port city of Ashdod
(photo credit: REUTERS/AMIR COHEN)
Israel is at risk of unwittingly placing itself in the company of weak nations which are unable to protect their interests or the interests of their people, should it continue to look the other way as Cyprus continues to develop the Aphrodite-Yishai gas field, a recent University of Haifa study warns.
Co-authored by Lexidale and the HMS Maritime Policy and Strategy Research Center, authors Dr. Benny Spanier, Dr. Elai Rettig and Advocate Nadia Tzimerman present other case studies from around the world in which countries were not eager to push for their share in an energy market.
Using the examples of the South Pars/North Dome Gas-Condensate field, which Iran and Qatar share; the Jubilee oil field that, while mostly Ghanian, has a part controlled by the Ivory Coast; or the dispute between Congo and Angola over oil. They argue that in each case, it was the “weaker” country that didn’t secure its legitimate interest – which would, ironically, place Israel in the same league as Iran.
A decade ago, Cyprus agreed to reach a joint agreement with Israel, or turn to arbitration, if some gas was found within Israel’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ). In 2012, Israel Opportunity found that roughly 10% of the gas field is in the Israeli EEZ. The company ordered a study, conducted by Dr. Yehoshua Hoffer, which found that this 10% could mean NIS 5 billion in taxes and royalties for the State of Israel.
Yet Cyprus is moving ahead in its plans to sell Aphrodite-produced gas to Egypt – gas which will be extracted under the partnership of Delek and Chevron, which now owns Noble Energy, and Royal Shell.
Cypriot Energy Minister Yiorgos Lakkotrypis went so far as to say that if it is “proven” that gas pumped from his country’s EEZ was taken from the Israeli side, they will offer compensation.
The report warns that countries rarely offer compensation for actions already taken, seeing such things as a fait accompli, and that Israel is losing revenue by not demanding that an arbitration process begin before gas is sold to Egypt.
While the gas field is perceived to be divided into two entities, Yishai and Aphrodite, the natural world is indifferent to human borders. It’s one reservoir, and pumping gas out from one side affects the entire pool.
Beyond the issue of money – which might end up being billions of shekels to a COVID-19 hit economy – there is also the issue of Israel’s ever-changing geopolitical interests.
While Cyprus is a close ally today, it’s unknown what may happen tomorrow should the EU change its policy toward the Jewish state.
The report warns that looking the other way when a European country is involved might lead to Lebanon seeking a similar treatment – and maybe even the Palestinians, who have a long-standing dispute with Israel over water rights.
“Israel cannot afford to allow a negative precedent [from its point of view] to be created,” the authors warn, “even if it does not see a relationship between [such cases].”
They warn that while Chevron could, in theory, pressure Cyprus into reaching an agreement with Israel, without a desire to use such means on behalf of the Israeli side, no energy company would consider making such efforts.
The report includes the interesting historical anecdote of Israel extracting, and even selling, Sinai-produced gas when it controlled it after the Six Day War.
Using an Italian company, Israel went so far as to sell part of the oil to France and Italy, not sharing any of the profits with Cairo.
Egyptian complaints were ignored, and Cairo opted not to bomb the gas field, hoping to one day get it back – which it eventually did.
Lahav Harkov contributed to this article.