Voices from the Arab press: Israel’s new secret weapon: Natural gas

A weekly selection of opinions and analyses from the Arab media around the world.

 A VIEW OF the Israeli Leviathan gas field gas processing rig near Caesarea. (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
A VIEW OF the Israeli Leviathan gas field gas processing rig near Caesarea.

Israel’s new secret weapon: Natural gas

Asharq Al-Awsat, London, February 5

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The Turkish government is slated to host the Israeli president for an official state visit next month. As a part of the visit, Turkish authorities are trying to persuade their Israeli counterparts to divert the EastMed pipeline, meant to transfer natural gas from Israeli waters to Europe via Greece and Cyprus, into Turkish territory. 

Israel has slowly but surely become a regional player in gas exports. It began by launching the Arish-Ashkelon pipeline, which connects Israel’s and Egypt’s gas pipeline infrastructure. 

In Arish, Israel’s gas pipeline connects to the wider Arab Gas Pipeline, which transports natural gas to neighboring Jordan, Syria and Lebanon. Now it seems that the network of pipelines could be extended as far as Istanbul, if negotiations between the two countries go well.

Gas, the primary source of energy for heating and cooking, is a vital geopolitical weapon. Over the past few years, Washington opposed Germany and the rest of the European Union in their gas deal with Russia. Now, with Russian President Vladimir Putin amassing 100,000 troops on Ukraine’s border and threatening to invade it, Europe’s hands are tied. 

 ACTING FOREIGN Minister of Taliban Amir Khan Muttaqi gives statements to the press in Oslo, last month. (credit: NTB/Terje Pedersen/Reuters) ACTING FOREIGN Minister of Taliban Amir Khan Muttaqi gives statements to the press in Oslo, last month. (credit: NTB/Terje Pedersen/Reuters)

European leaders cannot stop the Russian incursion and have to foot the bill, since the price of gas for the European consumer is already up 193%. Accordingly, US President Joe Biden is trying to paralyze Putin’s main weapon, the Nord Stream gas pipeline, which supplies gas for about 200 million Europeans; half the population of the EU. 

Qatar is an important financier of the vital commodity and, in the midst of this crisis, Washington gave it a “special position” in supplying Europe with gas. This is an important step for Doha (and a potentially alarming one as well), because it may put Qatar on the front line of the current Russian-American Cold War. The Russians consider the export of gas a strategic affair.

Israel, too, has begun to use gas geopolitically. Luck befell the small Jewish state, which discovered more gas than its needs. Israel decided to allocate 40% of its gas reserves to foreign exports. And, despite what is often said against Israeli gas in the Arab world, the fact of the matter is that Israeli gas is used to heat up homes in Jordan, power stovetops in Syria, and maintain a steady supply of electricity in Lebanon. These countries have no other option but to rely on Israeli gas. 

Indeed, it is normal for the countries of the region to cooperate when it comes to vital energy resources, no matter how different their political views or ideologies are. The Gaza Electricity Distribution Company imports gas from the Israel Electric Corporation and brings fuel from the West Bank, which imports it from Israel.

At a time when the political leaders refuse to make concessions that would alleviate the suffering of their constituents, an untouched gas field has been idly sitting across from the coast of Gaza for 20 years without being explored or extracted. As for Turkey, it seems that it chose to turn a new page in its relations with Israel with the hope of diverting the Israeli-European pipeline into Turkish territory and thus claiming an important role vis-à-vis the EU. 

Turkey is also seeking to reactivate its military and economic relationship with Israel, as it discovered that, during the two nations’ years of dispute, Israeli contracts have been redirected to Greece, Turkey’s sworn enemy. The UAE has also gained a lot of Israeli military and technical industrial licenses, which previously went to Turkey and others. Ankara is seeking to change this equation. – Abdul Rahman Al-Rashed  

International journalism and fallacies

Al-Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, February 4

Some of the world’s most prestigious newspapers publish explicit fallacies, lies and contradictions, only to hide behind the small disclaimer written at the bottom of their pages, which indicates that articles represent only the opinion of their authors and not the paper’s staff. 

This is a justification that is inconsistent with the history and mission of journalism, which is a discipline committed to the highest of standards and ethics. How can some newspapers give up their credibility in the name of freedom of expression? Does freedom of expression mean spreading lies and rumors as if they were facts?!

This is what the famous Wall Street Journal did when it published an article on foreign investments in the Saudi economy, which was full of inaccuracies and manipulated facts. The article portrayed Saudi Arabia’s tax system as a draconian system meant to deter foreign investors.

But the truth is that Saudi Arabia is simply trying to ensure ample employment opportunities for its citizens, just like any other sovereign nation in the world would do. In fact, most political leaders around the world are rewarded by their constituents on the basis of their performance in this area, and it’s a known fact that unemployment plays a crucial role in the American elections.

The article proceeded to claim that many foreign companies operating in Saudi Arabia were “caught off guard” by the taxes imposed on them by the Saudi authorities. This claim is simply nonsensical. Multinational corporations operating from Europe or the US are regularly subjected to taxes and fines amounting to billions of US dollars. These expenses are incorporated into these companies’ business models.

To claim that Saudi Arabia’s approach to the corporate taxation system is different from that of any Western democracy is foolish. The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is a country devoted to the development and well-being of its citizens. It is certainly not above criticism, but the criticism needs to be relevant and justifiable. Hurling baseless accusations at the kingdom under the guise of “journalism” is simply meant to undermine Saudi Arabia’s achievements on its path to development. – Youssef Al-Qublan

Playing with fire with the Taliban

Al-Ahram, Egypt, February 5

Last week, Taliban Foreign Minister Amir Khan Muttaqi announced that his government is inching closer toward international recognition, but that any concessions Afghanistan’s new rulers make, especially on the topic of human rights, will be on their terms.

According to Muttaqi, the new Taliban government decided to prove the sincerity of its position by maintaining all previous government workers in their posts for the time being. The minister also claimed that his government enjoys the support of Afghanistan’s public, saying: “This is our right, the right of the Afghans, and we will continue our political struggle and our efforts until we fulfill it!”

Although no country has officially recognized the Taliban government to date, Muttaqi suggested that his government is actively involved with the international community. He pointed out that several countries operate their embassies in Kabul, and it is expected that other countries, including European Union member states, will soon follow suit. 

Of course, the most interesting question is how China and Russia respond to the Taliban government. Will they accept or reject the Taliban government? And, more broadly, who will guarantee the stability of the Taliban as one cohesive movement? After all, fringe voices within the Taliban may very well break away from the movement and launch a more radical offshoot. 

Therefore, only time will tell whether the Taliban government succeeds in establishing diplomatic and political legitimacy. In the meantime, it would be best to closely monitor its actions, especially when it comes to women’s rights. – Ahmed Abdel Tawab 

Are Boris Johnson’s days in office numbered?

Al-Ittihad, UAE, February 3

In 2019, Britain’s Conservative Party won a landslide victory in the general election and secured a majority of 80 seats in Parliament. The results represented a personal victory for Conservative Party leader Boris Johnson, who had been chosen for the post only four months earlier. As for the Labour Party, led by the radical leftist Jeremy Corbyn, the election results marked the party’s worst defeat since 1935.

The scale of Johnson’s victory was made possible because large numbers of historical Labour voters in the industrial heartland of England turned away from Corbyn, destroying the so-called “red wall” that had guaranteed Labour victories in the past. 

Indeed, it was easy to understand the main reasons for Johnson’s victory: he was a brilliant politician, well known by the British public since his days as mayor of London. Moreover, his demeanor and jovial nature contrasted sharply with his opponent, the weak and unpopular Labor leader who was shunned even by a majority of moderates within his own party. 

Shortly after the election, Corbyn resigned and was replaced by the more moderate Sir Keir Starmer. Johnson’s victory gave him a parliamentary majority with which he could complete Brexit negotiations. But Johnson didn’t have much time to relax, because in early 2020, the world began facing an unprecedented pandemic.

Britain was one of the first countries to be seriously affected by COVID-19, so it began to impose strict restrictions on social gatherings in an attempt to contain the virus. These policies, and how they were applied, are the cause of Johnson’s troubles today, and may be the reason he ultimately loses his position as prime minister. 

Since the spring of 2020, British government rules have banned social gatherings of more than two people, and nearly 100,000 significant fines have been imposed on violators of those rules so far. The restrictions extended to all events and occasions, such as birthday parties, weddings, funerals, and even the popular Christmas parties.

But several leaks now confirm that, while the public was subjected to these strict policies, Johnson and his staff held and attended social gatherings that would be considered illegal. 

News of these abuses became so common that Sue Gray, the chief civil servant in charge of overseeing government ethics, was asked to open a formal investigation into Johnson’s conduct. On January 31, Gray released a preliminary report that found “misjudgment” by the Cabinet Office, and concluded that several events “should not have been allowed to occur.” 

The report added that “excessive consumption of alcoholic beverages is not permissible at any time in a professional workplace.” A longer report containing more details is expected to be published soon. 

As a result, Johnson is facing a barrage of criticism, including from members of his own party, with many calling for him to resign. So far, Johnson refuses to consider that option, but if enough members of his party decide that it’s time for him to go, his current premiership will come to an end. 

However, if he somehow manages to survive, he would be so weakened that any new mistakes he makes could prove fatal, and then a new party leader and a new prime minister would emerge. – Jeffrey Kemp

Translated by Asaf Zilberfarb.