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Life’s a Gas – when you have it
Israel - Middle East
Friday, July 15, 2011
Alf Cengia

Well, it was always going to happen.  Not only is their a never-ending dispute on Israel’s land borders - now Israel and Lebanon are making rival claims to the United Nations over “an area of the Mediterranean Sea that is potentially rich with energy resources”. In fact significant gas and oil reserves have been discovered there in recent years!

Beirut has “responded angrily” to Israel’s proposed maritime boundary calling it “an act of aggression”.  When the finds were made public they took no time to submit its proposals.

Oh, those aggressive Israelis!  You can’t trust them.  You allow a few missiles to be fired into their territory from your borders and they get all possessive and try to steal your gas and oil.

Jerusalem Post suggests that Israel is (once again) being painted as the “bad guy”:

“Following the cabinet’s decision on Sunday to approve a demarcation of the country’s northern maritime borders for UN submission, an energy policy expert said that Lebanese claims to Israeli exploratory territory may be fueled by a need to position Israel as the “bad guy” in order to get its own laws on the matter passed faster.”

But politics aside, gas resources are crucial to both Israel and Lebanon.  The J’Post article quotes energy policy and management expert Prof. Brenda Shaffer on Lebanon’s predicament:

“Their only gas that they get is from Egypt to Jordan, Jordan to Syria and Syria to Lebanon.”

Egypt also supplies Israel and Jordan. In Israel’s case that equates to forty percent of its gas needs.  The balance of it comes from a source that is expected to run dry by 2014.

Unfortunately saboteurs – sometimes reluctantly called terrorists - have a habit of blowing up the gas pipelines. Previous explosions occurred on February 5 and April 27 with the most recent being on July 4.

The latest attack prompted Tel Aviv analyst to remark that, "In the long term, it looks like Egypt won't be a reliable source of gas."  He notes that, while this doesn’t come as a shock, “…Electricity prices could go up on the back of this."

A recent Business report stated:

“Yesterday's explosion came just four days after the holders of the Sara and Myra exploration licenses off Israel's Mediterranean coast said a seismic survey showed the prospects may hold 6.5 trillion cubic feet of natural gas. The results followed other finds off Israel since 2009, including the Tamar and Leviathan discoveries that together hold an estimated 25 trillion cubic feet, enough to meet Israel's domestic needs and even export.” (Emphasis mine)

No wonder Beirut is so desperate to get its hands on those fields!

On the other hand Jordan has its own set of problems.  According to ahramonline one Jordanian official has stated that the repeated attacks on the pipeline means that they cannot rely on Egyptian gas any longer and will have to consider other options:

“The minister earlier said that that Jordan will not rely on Egyptian gas as its primary source for generating electrical power because of frequent interruptions in the supply, which has amounted to 82 days since the start of 2011.”

An option for accessing supplies from either Russia or Qatar is on the table for consideration. Yet another possible source is Iran, with which tentative negotiations have already begun.  According to one source, “Iran has the world's second largest gas reserves after Russia but has struggled for years to develop its oil and gas resources”

Dr Khaled Toukan - who is the current chairman of the Jordan Atomic Energy Commission – told a newspaper that “Iran had submitted a letter to Jordan expressing its willingness to supply natural gas” and that the offer is being “studied”.

Speaking of “Atomic Energy” here’s what Wiki says regarding Jordan:

“Jordan is among the highest in the world in dependency on foreign energy sources, 96% of the country's energy needs come from imported oil and natural gas from neighboring Arab countries. This complete reliance on foreign oil imports consumes a significant amount of Jordan's GDP. This led the country to plan investments of $15 billion in renewable and nuclear energy. Jordan plans to get 60% of its energy needs from nuclear energy by 2035.”

The Iranians also plan to expand their exports by supplying natural gas to Onan via an undersea pipeline by March 2012 and to Europe via Iraq and Syria.

It’s not too difficult to see that Iran needs open trade routes with its neighbors to be able to freely export.  Iran really needs a viable Syria (for a number of reasons) as a reliable supply chain route.  But Syria may well be on the brink of collapse.

Victor Kotsev writing for AsiaTimes suggests that the Syrian regime is perilously close to a free fall.  He cites “spiraling economic, social and political tensions that are pulling apart the Syrian state and society”.

Kotsev:

"The situation in the country is already dire, and a long-time crisis and famine were among the factors contributing to the start of the unrest. The longer the instability continues, the worse the economic crisis will become. Eventually, this could shift the division lines from political to economic, and could bring down the Syrian government in a way very different, and much more catastrophic, from what the opposition is currently trying to do.”

Kotsev goes on to point out that Syria has become a battle ground between Iran and its Western Arab opponents. That’s not what Iran needs…unless, of course, it can somehow insert another puppet regime into Syria.                  

What Iran also doesn’t need is an economic competitor like Israel - with the possibility of burgeoning gas and oil resources - emerging onto the energy market scene.  Israel is resourceful – it has had to be to survive extreme challenges to its existence since the day of its modern birth.

That same initiative will ensure that it will take full advantage of any mineral resources available to it.  If the prognosticators are correct, Israel may become self-reliant and perhaps also carve a market away from Russia and Iran.

Now that would be interesting!

Further reading:
An opinion piece on Syria by Nehad Ismail

About Alf Cengia

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