The gas supply we can no longer rely on

The apparent resolve to disrupt gas supplies to Israel isn’t something we can afford to downplay.

Egypt gas pipeline blast 311 (photo credit: REUTERS)
Egypt gas pipeline blast 311
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Famed author Thomas Mann once asserted that “everything is politics.” The ongoing controversy in Egypt about its gas sales to Israel would have certainly vindicated Mann’s contention and then some.
Egypt’s role as Israel’s prime supplier of natural gas is being steadily undermined by Cairo’s own “investigations” into the deal. This challenge is further underscored by physical sabotage since the beginning of the end of the Mubarak regime. The gas pipeline to Israel was blown up Wednesday for the second time, near the north Sinai town of El-Arish.
The previous explosion occurred on February 5 but it wasn’t before March 16 that supplies were renewed. A few days thereafter, though, a second unsuccessful attempt was made to damage the pipeline. Now, one month later, another blast was set off and gas supplies were cut off yet again.
What differentiates Wednesday’s detonation from its February precursor is that the saboteurs made their target more explicit. In February they hit the pipeline before it branches off into separate gas conduits to Jordan and Israel. As a result gas supplies bound for Jordan were also affected. In the latest attack only the section heading directly to Israel was attacked.
The apparent resolve to disrupt gas supplies to Israel isn’t something we can afford to downplay. Egyptian gas accounts for 40% of the gas used for electricity production in Israel. As of Wednesday hectic preparations were under way at the Israel Electric Corporation to implement contingency plans to make up for this very significant shortfall. The recurrent nature of the problem has already set in motion an exhaustive reevaluation of the reliance on Egyptian gas.
The most obvious cause for worry is the fact that nobody can guarantee that these are isolated episodes. If anything, the indication is that we can no longer count on stable gas supplies from Egypt.
This impression is further amplified by the ostensible “corruption” accusations leveled in Cairo against Mubarak and his senior officials, who are charged with selling gas to Israel at considerably less than “global market rates,” thereby robbing Egypt of income.
However, unlike the case with crude oil, no international benchmarks exist for gas prices, which are highly contingent on how far the gas needs to be piped. The fact that Israel adjoins the Sinai suffices to lower costs drastically. If anything, the proceedings against Cairo’s deposed leadership smack of a vendetta, with gas sales to Israel furnishing the popular pretext.
The unfortunate fact of the matter is that anti-Israel incitement is mushrooming in Egypt, hence coexistence with Israel grows increasingly unpopular.
According to results of a recent poll conducted by the Pew Research Center, 54% of all Egyptians would like to see the peace treaty with Israel annulled.
If this is in fact the Egyptian vox populi, then Israel has every reason for anxiety. Israel is in the best of times a handy punching bag for the Arab world and this knee-jerk tendency is all the more apparent during periods of acute instability.
In Syria, for instance, supposed pro-democracy protesters goad Bashar Assad to “liberate the Golan” rather than battle them. In other words, Israel is identified as the real overriding enemy.
Egypt fits snugly into this pattern. Anti-Israel fervor makes trumped-up charges in an Israeli context the best whip with which to lash toppled autocrats. The gas contract with Israel is turned into a hostage in the current power struggles provoked by Cairo’s burgeoning political realignment.
Whether or not Egyptian gas supplies are threatened in the long term, Israel must now cushion its economy against potential future shock. Greater focus on local gas discoveries, such as the Tamar Field, is imperative.
This primarily means speeding up resolution of all remaining snarls holding up Israeli gas drilling. The aim should be to pump Tamar gas into our mains within the next couple of years at the latest.
Evidently, we can no longer depend on Cairo’s goodwill and must shield ourselves against the more undesirable potential consequences accruing from Egypt’s game-changing domestic cataclysm.