A lot of media articles based on reliable information have already been published about how Israel is using its lobby in the US to push Washington to implement Israel’s preferred policy in the Palestinian-Israeli peace-making process, in the Middle East, in armed confrontation, military interventions and the destruction of Israel’s military-strategic opponents in the region. The United States has been using forceful methods to pursue these goals, and as a result, the potential military threat to Israel from neighboring Arab States (specifically Iraq, Syria and Libya) has been all but eliminated. Washington has also pressured opponents with a variety of sanctions which contradict the UN Charter, blocking resolutions in international organizations if they are unfavorable to Israel or critical of its policies.
The gas confrontation has recently become another area in which Israel is steering the US into yet another war. Its most active phase manifested itself in 2019. It merits recalling that it is thanks to the USA’s efforts that gas has become a rather formidable ‘weapon’ in recent years. Having no strategic gas reserves itself (shale gas is short-lived, and its price tends to always increase), the USA nevertheless aims to actively control international gas flows, turning the resource into its strategic weapon. The only question here is who will suffer the most from the US turning the cleanest and cheapest peaceful fuel into a source of suffering for millions of people. Today, to avoid Russia’s rapprochement with European nations, Washington is actively attempting to hinder the development of gas cooperation between Russia and Europe.
In recent years, this policy of the USA’s has proven to be in great demand by Israel, which decided to join the ‘gas war’ and remove its unwanted competitors in the gas market through Washington’s hands, as it used to do with its potential military-strategic opponents.
Israel’s struggle for supposed yet still unexplored oil and gas reserves in the Eastern Mediterranean began in 2012 near the shores of Cyprus and Greece, where the deep-sea Aphrodite gas field was discovered, its reserves estimated to be at 140 billion cubic meters. Israel had also discovered the Tamar gas field (300 billion cubic meters) near its maritime border with Lebanon and has been exploiting it, along with the US, since 2013. The Leviathan, however, is considered the largest field in the region. It is located 135 km from the Israeli city of Haifa, about halfway between Israel and Cyprus’ coasts. The US Geological Survey estimates the Leviathan’s potential reserves to be at 6.2 trillion cubic meters of natural gas and 1.7 billion barrels of oil.
That said, there are other fields, but the region is characterized by a rather complex geological overlay, so the way borders are drawn decides everything. Because of this, a new Middle Eastern conflict over gas fields is unfolding in the neutral waters of the Eastern Mediterranean. Thus, in addition to disputes between Turkey, Greece and Cyprus over the ownership of the fields, a Turkish-Israeli conflict has arisen over territories which are ‘typically’ located in Lebanese and Syrian waters, and to top it off, one of Israel’s zones is located quite close in the South. In June 2019, Greece threatened Turkey with EU sanctions, in response to which Ankara refused to let the EU determine borders in the Mediterranean. With Israel’s obvious meddling, the US also called upon Turkey to abandon its mining activities near the coast of Cyprus.
For these reasons, Turkish drones have been deployed in Northern Cyprus to watch over the Israelis, while the latter’s aircraft hover threateningly over Turkish drillers. Babak Taghvaee, a famous blogger living in Malta and positioning himself as a military expert, even wrote on Twitter that the F-16I aircraft of the Israeli Air Force ‘struck down’ a Turkish ship using the anti-radar missiles Delilah. In retaliation, the Israeli research vessel Bat Ghalim was expelled from Cyprus’ economic zone by a Turkish warship.
Israel is financially interested in exporting its gas to Europe, and after two years of negotiating with Cyprus, Greece and Italy, the parties reached an agreement in 2018 to build the EastMed pipeline—the longest submarine pipeline to the EU. Experts cautiously estimate the cost of the pipeline’s construction to reach €6 billion. According to the draft project, the pipeline is set to be laid at the bottom of the Mediterranean Sea and will pass through Greece. The total length of the pipeline is estimated to be over 1,300 km by some sources and 1,900 km by others. It will originate in Israel and end in three outlets located in Cyprus, Crete and Greece. The gas will then be transported to Italian terminals. The pipeline’s capacity is stated to be 20 billion cubic meters a year, but independent experts believe that it is simply impossible to squeeze more than 10 billion cubic meters out of Leviathan and Aphrodite. The pipeline is planned to be made operational by 2025.
The importance of the EastMed gas pipeline for Israel itself is hard to overstate. The pipeline will bring it financial profits, as well as the opportunity to directly and indirectly influence political decisions, to defend its interests in the international market and to secure the European Union as a trusted ally. At the same time, Europe itself has a rather ambiguous stance on the EastMed gas pipeline. For one, Stefan Wolfrum, a researcher at the German Institute for International and Security Affairs (Stiftung Wissenschaft und Politik (SWP)) in Berlin, has recently harshly criticized the project, claiming that Israel is unreliable as a mediator. Wolfrum insists that the country must first establish relations with its neighbors and only then make promises to Europe.
In these circumstances, Israel defended its interests by lobbying in the US to initiate the notorious campaign for, allegedly, providing the EU with ‘energy security from Russian gas supplies.’ Israel further pushed for Washington to impose sanctions against the Russian pipelines Nord Stream and Turkish Stream, seeking to remove Russia and Turkey as competitors for gas supply to Europe. On December 20, US President Donald Trump signed the country’s defense budget for fiscal year 2020, approving sanctions against the Russian gas pipelines Turkish Stream and Nord Stream 2. As a result, the construction of NS2 was temporarily suspended precisely when Israel is successfully developing the EastMed gas pipeline in cooperation with Greece and Cyprus, the Israeli media report.
And so, on December 31, Israel began supplying gas from the giant offshore Leviathan field to Natgaz terminals. From there it will be delivered only to Israeli consumers (for now). “For the first time since its establishment, Israel is now an energy powerhouse, able to supply all its energy needs and simultaneously export natural gas to its neighbors,” Yossi Abu, CEO of the Israeli company Delek Drilling stated.
Meanwhile the US Congress is investing in new projects in the Mediterranean region in an effort to undermine Turkey and Russia and support its ally Israel, The Hill frankly acknowledged. The news outlet notes that, as part of a $1.4 trillion spending package, American lawmakers have made the US a key player in the natural gas market in the Eastern Mediterranean, forging partnerships in the fields of security and energy with Israel, Greece and Cyprus. Among other things, these efforts entail strengthening relations with Greece and lifting the decades-long arms embargo on Cyprus. Thus the US reaffirms its commitments to these nations and gives its allies the opportunity to keep Turkey’s regional ambitions in check. In addition to creating new opportunities for greater cooperation between Israel and its Arab neighbors, this move is detrimental to Russia, The Hill writes.
In response to these actions, in late November Turkey signed important agreements with two nations in the Middle East region, namely Qatar, its ideological ally, and war-torn Libya, which provides strategic influence in North Africa. According to regional analysts, discounting the ideological, military and financial aspects of the relations between Ankara, Tripoli and Doha, natural gas remains the only common denominator in Turkey’s relations with the two oil-rich countries.
In an attempt to turn gas into a strategic weapon, the US and Israel have opened Pandora’s Box, and we have yet to see what kinds of demons climb out of it to poison the lives of people in countless countries and regions.
Vladimir Odintsov, expert politologist, exclusively for the online magazine ‘New Eastern Outlook’.