Saturday, 17 January 2009

Gaza and Israel: it's a gas!

The semi-submersible drilling rig on location over the Tamar-1 well

It was bound to happen. Israel can’t carry on indefinitely it’s ruthless bombardment of Gaza. With only three days left before the inauguration of Obama and the 44th President of the United States of America, it wouldn’t look good if there wasn’t as least some form of ceasefire on the table by then. The last thing that Israel needs is to get off to a bad start with the new president.

It is therefore by total serendipity that the upcoming ceasefire follows on from one of the most fortunate events in Israel’s recent history: the discovery of potentially the largest hydrocarbon reserves the country has known. Since I am directly involved in the project, I cannot say much. But I can refer you to the various press releases made by partners and a government website, The Israel Export and International Co-operation Institute.

“The Tamar-1 drilling, some 90 kilometers west of Haifa, is considered the most promising of the potential drilling sites off Israel's coast. Initial estimates were of a 35% chance of finding a reserve of 87 billion cubic meters of natural gas.”

This is relevant to Gaza, as Michel Chossudovsky points out in his article The Israeli Invasion & Gaza's Offshore Gas Fields, there has been a long-running feud between Israel and Gaza as to the exploitation of the large gas reserves that were discovered off the coast of Gaza in the late 1990s. To this day, these gas fields lie unexploited because of blocks put on development by various Israeli governments. Following the election of Hamas, efforts were redoubled to ensure that the Palestinian authorities would not see any of the estimated $2 billion that the project would yield for the Palestinian people. These blocking efforts culminated in the intervention of Tony Blair with the operators BG Group (formally British Gas) when they finally lost patience with the Israelis and approached the Egyptians instead.
Chossudovsky puts the case that Israel, increasingly desperate for natural resources, planned Operation Lead Cast to be rid of Hamas, not to prevent a few rockets being fired, but to install a Palestinian authority which would be a more suitable partner for the exploitation of Gazan gas. In other words, effective annexation of the most valuable resource the Palestinians have.

Why does Israel need this energy so badly? On top of the normal needs of a modern society, Israel is having to face another more pressing crisis: the lack of water. With climate change leading to less rainfall in recent years and an increase in population (a growth of over one million, mainly from Eastern Europe in the 1990s), the country has been growing increasingly thirsty. Development of existing aquifers has met with limited success so the authorities have turned to desalination to solve their water needs. A plant opened at Ashdod in 2006 with supply five percent of the country’s needs and more are planned. Desalination has long been used in the Arabian Gulf, where the energy required for this process has not been an issue. The same cannot be said in Israel. As the old joke goes, Moses may have led the chosen people to the land of milk and honey but it seems to be only place in the Middle East without oil. Israel is already dependent on Egyptian gas supplies and are willing to do anything to avoid becoming even more dependent on a neighbour which is still viewed as a potential enemy.

If the hopes for this discover are realised, the Tamar project may be just what Israel needs: a large supply of energy, independent of Arabic sources.

In the meantime, the people of Gaza are still dying. Expect the number of sorties to increase right up to the ceasefire being signed because there is a lot at stake. But the Tamar gas project may not just benefit Israelis but may supply what all the people of the region need: a little respite.

Let us all hope the time is used searching for a long-term peace, and not just another ceasefire.

Selected sources:

Tamar gas project
Water (page 28 - Israel)
Gaza gas

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