Tamar’s blessing

Maximizing the benefits of Tamar and Leviathan necessitates no small amount of wisdom and vision. A bit of providence wouldn’t hurt either.

Tamar natural gas rig 370 (photo credit: Albatross)
Tamar natural gas rig 370
(photo credit: Albatross)
Tamar’s blessing Tradition teaches that it was because God wanted to hear the Jewish people’s prayers for rain that He gave them Israel, a land so dependent on heavenly downpours, and did not give them, say, Egypt with its Nile River. The same could have been said for Israel’s dearth of fossil fuel reserves – until now.
At 4 p.m. on Saturday afternoon, natural gas began to flow from Tamar, a huge field located off the Haifa shore, to a terminal at the Ashdod port. And in 2016 gas from Leviathan, an even larger field, is slated to start streaming for the Jewish state’s benefit as well.
As President Shimon Peres pointed out, it was wrong to begin the historic pumping on Shabbat, and hopefully, in Peres’s words, “this will be the last mistake.”
Israel’s new status as an energy powerhouse has not made prayers obsolete. Maximizing the benefits of Tamar and Leviathan necessitates no small amount of wisdom and vision. A bit of providence wouldn’t hurt either.
Undoubtedly, the reservoirs of nature are a big blessing for Israel. As Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu noted, it is “good for the Israeli economy and for all Israelis.”
The Tamar field alone is expected to supply 50 percent to 80% of our natural gas needs over the next 10 years. Currently, about 40% of all electricity is generated from natural gas, which is much cleaner than other fuels such as oil or coal. And gas is expected to provide an even larger percentage of total electricity in coming years.
The Tamar gas comes at a particularly opportune time. Oil prices are skyrocketing. And our gas supply from Egypt, which had supplied the Israel Electric Company with up to 40% of its natural gas needs, was discontinued after the gas line was bombed over a dozen times by terrorists operating in the Egyptian Sinai.
With tax rates on energy profits from the gas reserves set at 52-62%, the riches will be shared with the people, making all of our lives easier.
But our new-found abundance and energy independence must not make us lose sight of our goals.
Domestically, an apparatus must be set in place to ensure that the tax revenues from gas sales are indeed set aside in a fund devoted to improving education and other social needs, as promised by the previous government.
Bank of Israel Gov. Stanley Fischer took the opportunity during a press conference on Tuesday to call on the government to set up such a fund and have it invest in foreign markets.
The new government must also work quickly to formulate a coherent export policy. Explorers claim that serious investment in development of Leviathan hinges on government assurances that the more lucrative exporting of gas will be permitted at sufficiently high quotas.
In August of last year, the government-appointed Tzemach Committee recommended allocating slightly more than half of the Leviathan field’s annual projected production for exports. At the time, the report was viewed as a victory for the exploration companies.
Allowing large export quotas could be a boon. Exploration companies would be encouraged to invest the necessary capital to develop the field in a timely fashion.
Proceeds and, therefore, tax revenues, would be maximized. And Israeli gas exports might even help foster ties with our neighbors.
Jordan and the Palestinian Authority, nearly totally dependent on imported energy sources, are the most obvious first customers, since delivery would be cheap and require only a few kilometers of pipeline. By contrast, other options are more complicated, involving either long undersea pipelines or the building of expensive liquefied natural gas plants.
Unfortunately, rational considerations such as the obvious cost benefits are eclipsed by blind, irrational hatred for Israel even in a state such as Jordan which has a long-standing peace treaty with Israel.
Tamar, Leviathan and other possible gas reserves, including one off the shore of the Gaza Strip’s shore, have the potential to be a blessing not just to Israel but to its neighbors as well. But to partake of this blessing old hatreds must be laid aside.