Among the achievements of the 74-year-old Israel is being independent in supplying its needs in energy. To be precise, we still use imported coal and oil to produce electricity, but if forced to, Israel can rapidly adjust itself to generate all the power it needs from its own resources, mostly its natural gas.
Cynics may dismiss this as a trivial result of a combination in which nature provided the east Mediterranean with natural gas, a man dug a hole in the seabed and connected the well with a pipeline to the shore, and Israel is independent. The road to that independence was more complicated and the tests ahead are not simple.
There has been a healthy though bitter argument of who really owns the natural gas – the state or the private entrepreneur. The state won and royalties are paid. There has been a healthy but bitter argument of how much of the natural gas should be secured for Israel’s own consumption and how much can be exported. Though the state had won, it had to accept a limitation on exports.
There is a healthy and bitter debate of where to locate various installations connected to the extraction, transmission and export of the gas, but it flows both to the Israel consumers and to neighboring Egypt, Jordan and the Palestinian Authority.
The cynics should also look at Lebanon. It is endowed with this natural treasure in its economic share of the Mediterranean, but has failed to extract a single cubic meter of gas and is regarded as a bankrupt state, in which 24/7 electricity is an unknown commodity.
The war in Ukraine has accentuated the European dependency on Russia as its major supplier of oil and gas. Of the three major global economic engines – the United States, Europe and China, just the US is self-sufficient, which adds to its prowess as superpower. In trying to help Europe rapidly reduce its dependency on Russia, the US has committed itself to transmit an additional 15 billion cubic meters to Europe, in 2022.
Israel can provide a large part of this quantity depending on the current capacity of the liquefying facilities in Egypt or the ability of the companies extracting the Israeli gas, specifically the American partner Chevron, to move a floating liquefying installation to the Israeli wells.
Certain European countries have already approached Israel in this respect. Thus, beyond enjoying independence in energy, Israel has leveraged its relative richness in natural gas to strengthen its geostrategic relations with neighbors in the region and in Europe.
Toward Israel’s one hundred years of independence, it will have to rely a lot more heavily on renewable energy, as the world moves away from fossil energy sources. In the absence of a revolution that will dramatically reduce the space needed for the production of renewable energy, such as wind or solar, this may mean inter-dependence with neighbors that supply Israel with solar and wind energy in return for desalinated water. Inter-dependence may have the added value of reducing the likelihood of protracted and violent conflicts.
The writer is a senior researcher at the Tel Aviv University-affiliated Institute for National Strategic Studies (INSS), and Israel’s former ambassador to Jordan and the EU.