Israel and the United States (US) are united through shared values, a commitment to democracy and a partnership that stretches back to the founding of the State of Israel. The two countries now share something new: They are significant natural gas exporters. Built on innovation and new technology, both are developing an unexpected bounty of energy resources.
For Israel in particular, the stakes are high: Its energy reserves can play a significant role in advancing regional peace and stability. Yet, climate activists are increasingly putting the potential for rapid integration with neighbors in the Eastern Mediterranean at risk by demanding natural gas production be halted.
The discoveries of the giant natural gas fields Zohr, Leviathan, and Aphrodite in the Levant Basin have drawn global attention and enthusiasm, not least from Israel’s neighbors. Israeli natural gas quickly began to supply electricity and heat to Arabs and Israelis alike. After years of avoiding investment in Israel for fear of retribution from neighboring Arab countries, the historic Abraham Accords created the space to attract international energy heavyweights, such as Chevron Corporation. As well, in a once-unthinkable development, the Mubadala Investment Company, a sovereign wealth fund of Abu Dhabi, invested $1 b. into the Tamar natural gas field in Israel.
Natural gas development is spurring greater regional cooperation, as Eastern Mediterranean countries recognize the critical importance of their shared efforts to unlock the full potential of the region’s resources. Currently, there are numerous projects being promoted by national governments and the private sector. These projects seek to provide new opportunities for vulnerable populations, such as the Palestinians and Lebanese, and strengthen the already significant trade between Israel, Egypt and Jordan.
The emergence of regional cooperation in the Eastern Mediterranean reflects a newfound commitment to prosperity through integration. A notable advancement is the East Mediterranean Gas Forum (EMGF), a multinational institution that serves as the central platform for public-private sector cooperation for countries in the Eastern Mediterranean basin.
The EMGF was established by Israel, Egypt, Greece, Cyprus, Jordan, Italy and the Palestinian Authority to promote the common interest in natural gas’s strategic, economic, and environmental benefits for all people. The success of this institution is leading to an expansion of activities to jointly assess and mitigate risks, develop future infrastructure corridors and promote the use of shared infrastructure to project cohesive regional competitiveness.
The region’s potential is only beginning to emerge. The Abraham Accords are driving a flood of investment and economic development in the region, including through cross-border investment in energy infrastructure. Plans to link the region’s two transnational natural gas systems – the Arab system that connects Jordan, Egypt, Lebanon, Syria, and the Gulf States system – offers sophisticated and efficient natural gas systems, including to Europe, who are in a time when they are desperately seeking reliable energy alternatives.
Perhaps most significant is the Euro-Asia Interconnector, which envisions combining the electricity grids of Israel, Cyprus and Greece. With a vision for the future, the Israeli electricity system can connect Jordanian, Egyptian, and perhaps even the Saudi Arabian grid through the Red Sea, and position Israel as an electric bridge between the pan-Arab and European electricity grids.
The progress of Israel and its neighbors bears a striking resemblance to the energy revolution in the US. Natural gas has turned the US from an energy consumer to the world’s leading exporter of natural gas. This position enables the US to provide reliability and security to allies and partners worldwide.
Make no mistake, the benefits of natural gas are not just geopolitically or economically significant, natural gas is once again showing that it is the backbone of energy transition. Israel and the US are witnessing record reductions in pollution emissions levels, but in the Middle East, natural gas is mitigating the rampant shortages that force populations to burn inefficient fuels, such as diesel.
Now, Israel is facing a threat all too familiar to American producers: Policymakers naively embracing climate activism without fully understanding the real-world implications. In the situation of Israel and its neighbors, investors and financial institutions may be forced to engage in a retrograde zero-sum game by choosing between Middle East peace, and rigid environmental and social governance requirements.
Following the lackluster outcome of Glasgow’s COP26, we can only hope that the upcoming COP27, hosted by Egypt, will provide an opportunity for climate activists to emerge from their bubbles and witness firsthand that natural gas is a driving force the world over in reducing emissions, bridging historic divides, and creating enormous prosperity, opportunity and security.
Outside the climate social networks, the US and Israel should renew support for realizing the full potential of our respective resources through political and financial support, not simply for our economic gain, but that of our allies and partners, as well.
Aviv Ayash served as foreign policy adviser to Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz. Sam Buchan served as director on the White House National Economic Council (NEC), as well as senior adviser to Secretary of Energy Rick Perry. Currently, they are energy and foreign policy strategy consultants.