February 14, 2014 | Tom Olago
Israel has had plenty of issues and enemies: Iran’s nuclear threats, the Palestinian crisis, the neighboring Syrian upheaval and growing regional instability. Now certain geological developments have begun allowing the Jewish state more than just military superiority in the Middle East: her economic prospects and political power are now on the rise, thanks to the vast fields of natural gas and oil discovered in the deep waters between Israel and Cyprus over the last five years.
Israel may be popping the champagne, but clearly her political foes and economic competitors are not. Chief among them may well be Russian President, Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin. These developments are expected to undermine Putin’s efforts to rebuild Russia’s influence in the Middle East, and weaken his current strong hand in Europe.
The New York Post’s Arthur Herman reports: “Those natural gas and oil fields, dubbed Tamar and Leviathan, promise Israel an unprecedented degree of energy independence and a lucrative export market to its Arab neighbors, including Egypt and Jordan. And they threaten to challenge Russian energy giant Gazprom’s dominance of the European gas market.
That dominance has been one of the lynchpins of Putin’s power. Gazprom provided Europe almost one-quarter of its total natural gas needs last year, and that need is inevitably going to grow. Europeans know they pay Gazprom a significant premium for natural gas (more than 2¹/₂ times what Americans pay for gas), even as Gazprom produces cheaply in Russia’s Soviet-era fields.
They also know Russia’s not afraid to use its gas exports as blackmail, as when Putin severed the supply lines to Ukraine in 2009.Greens won’t let Europeans extract their own natural-gas reserves through fracking, so countries of the European Union have been resigned to letting Putin hold a whiphand over their energy needs, and their economies.”
Israel’s exports are most likely to be in the form of liquefied natural gas or LNG — which would be safer than using pipelines that terrorists can damage. This would be welcome news for the EU countries, which are then more likely to become better political and trade partners with Israel: all gained at Russia’s expense. The Daily Beast reports: “Within a few years, indeed, Israel hopes to be a major supplier of gas to Europe and also to its Arab neighbors Jordan and Egypt.”
New York Post’s Arthur Herman separately elaborates: “That has Gazprom, which gets 40 percent of its revenues from Europe, worried — and Putin, too. The Russian company has made offers to “help” Israel develop the Leviathan field (the Israelis chief partner now is Houston-based Noble Energy). Early last year Gazprom negotiated a contract to liquefy some of the gas coming from the Tamar field. But many experts wonder how much the Russians really want to help Israel’s emergence as an energy competitor.
Insiders agree the Tamar export deal is now all but dead, and an Australian challenger with major LNG expertise, Woodside Petroleum, has just agreed to take a 25 percent stake in Leviathan development. The Israeli government is still working out how much gas it wants to export, and what to reserve for home consumption.
But for Gazprom the rebuff when the Israelis opted for Woodside is a harbinger of what’s to come: not just a lost contract on Leviathan, or even a challenge to its European market — but also a loss of influence in the Middle East.
Exporting gas to Egypt, Jordan, and even the Palestinian Authority (Noble already has a contract with the Palestine Generating Power Co. to start in by 2017) will help smooth Israel’s relations with its neighbors — more bad news for a Russia that always prefers to fish in waters roiled by Middle East chaos, as the Russian warships now stationed off Syria should remind us.
Israel’s new gas bonanza offers a huge opportunity for US interests, by helping to secure peace in the Middle East and undercutting Putin’s imperial pretensions in Europe and the East Mediterranean.”
So far Israel’s gain is Putin’s pain. It will be interesting to see how Russia proceeds based on Israel’s spate of blessings.
As for Israel’s Arab enemies, the stakes around territorial rights are now likely to be heightened. Christopher Dickey reports in his Daily Beast analysis of 6th February: “Are these Gas Fields Israel’s Next Warzone?” Christopher examines the likelihood of wars stemming from the desire to control economic dominance in the Middle East to start on yet another front: the Levant Basin Province in the Eastern Mediterranean.
Hence Israel, Turkey, Russia and the Iranian-backed Hezbollah are reported to be rushing to enhance and increase their naval defense and war capabilities in the Eastern Mediterranean. War chest budgets run to as high as a billion dollars for Turkey to acquire advanced assault ships.
Although the entire area is generally volatile, the hottest flashpoint at the moment is between Lebanon and Israel, which remain, formally, in a state of war. This enhances the spectacle of dispute over lines of demarcation between their 200-nautical-mile “exclusive economic zones.” In addition, territorial claims overlaps by about 860 square kilometers (332 square miles) occur in a potentially rich portion of the Levant Basin.
Observers however downplay the Hezbollah threat, mainly due to lack of adequate resources, and various political sensitivities that include current Iranian priorities. This scenario places the advantage squarely in Israel’s favor under these circumstances, as they can proceed to allow mining and exploration to continue under Israel military surveillance and protection.
According to The Daily Beast, the area in question was roughly defined in 2010 by the U.S. Geological Survey. It estimated that in this area there are some 122 trillion cubic feet of natural gas and 1.6 billion barrels of oil—and possibly twice that much. The basin runs from near the Syrian port of Tartus (which is also where the Russians have their naval base), down the entire coast of Lebanon, Israel and Gaza, and out toward Cyprus.
That oil and gas could be found there was not entirely a surprise, however political wrangling in the Middle East primarily between Israel and the Palestinians, prompted the pullout of British Company BG Group in 2007 and in 2008, BG shut its office in Israel.
Since then, the whole operation has been on ice. However joint exploration initiatives between Noble Energy out of Texas, Delek Group and other Israeli companies, resulted in major gas finds in 2009 and 2010. That included the huge Tamar field, which started producing in 2013, and the enormous Leviathan field, estimated to hold 18 trillion cubic feet of gas. Gas findings are projected to meet Israel’s requirements for the next 150 years.
The prophet Ezekiel wrote: “‘This is what the Sovereign LORD says: I am against you, Gog (Many scholars are divided between the identity of Gog as being Russia or Turkey), chief prince of Meshek and Tubal. I will turn you around, put hooks in your jaws and bring you out with your whole army …’” (Ezekiel 38:3-4)
“On that day thoughts will come into your mind and you will devise an evil scheme. You will say, “I will invade a land of unwalled villages; I will attack a peaceful and unsuspecting people (Israel) —all of them living without walls and without gates and bars. I will plunder and loot and turn my hand against the resettled ruins and the people gathered from the nations, rich in livestock and goods, living at the center of the land.” (Ezekiel 38:10-12)
The Bible prophesies that, one day, God will ‘put a hook’ in Magog’s jaw to draw it down into Israel, where it will plan to ‘plunder and loot’ an ‘unsuspecting people’. Are Israel’s newly discovered natural gas fields and possible future oil discoveries the ‘hook’ that draws this invading force into Israel?
The idea of a hook almost suggests an action that gives it no choice. Would an Israeli attack on Iran force Russia to act and in the process look to take advantage of this vast resource wealth – one that will allow Gazprom to keep it’s dominant control over the natural gas market in Europe and beyond. Iran (Persia) is also listed in Ezekiel’s scenario as a major player – thus linking such events may not be so far fetched.
If this is the case, Russia and/or Turkey as well as Iran had better take warning in Ezekiel’s prophecy:
“This is what will happen in that day: When Gog attacks the land of Israel, my hot anger will be aroused, declares the Sovereign LORD. In my zeal and fiery wrath I declare that at that time there shall be a great earthquake in the land of Israel.
The fish in the sea, the birds in the sky, the beasts of the field, every creature that moves along the ground, and all the people on the face of the earth will tremble at my presence. The mountains will be overturned, the cliffs will crumble and every wall will fall to the ground. I will summon a sword against Gog on all my mountains, declares the Sovereign LORD.
Every man’s sword will be against his brother. I will execute judgment on him with plague and bloodshed; I will pour down torrents of rain, hailstones and burning sulfur on him and on his troops and on the many nations with him. And so I will show my greatness and my holiness, and I will make myself known in the sight of many nations. Then they will know that I am the LORD.’” (Ezekiel 38:18-23)