Striking it Rich: Israeli Energy Policy (Part One)

Striking it Rich: The Opportunities and Challenges of Israel’s Energy Future

Tamar Natural Gas Field

Tamar Natural Gas Field

By Jonathan Kamel

Photograph of Tamar Natural Gas Field courtesy of Times of Israel

Note: This Article represents Part One of a scheduled Three Part Series.

John Brown, an evangelical Christian from Dallas, Texas, believes God gave oil to his chosen people. Brown is the founder of Zion Oil & Gas, a publicly traded company that searches for oil in Israel as a divinely inspired business and religious venture. Yet, these “holy wildcatters” have failed at their mission to find oil within Israel’s mainland. When asked where in the bible Brown found inspiration to drill he responded, “It doesn’t say specifically oil, but there’s a huge possibility it could be, let’s put it that way.”

While Zion Oil & Gas has literally and figuratively hit rock bottom, losing 90% of its stock value in five years, Israel is about to enter an unprecedented natural gas boom. Brown was simply looking for liquid gold in the wrong place. In 2009, an American energy exploratory company discovered the Tamar natural gas field off the coast of Haifa and set Israel on a course of unexpected Mediterranean drilling. Following Tamar, the Leviathan field was discovered in 2010, tripling Israel’s known stores of gas and the country’s energy landscape. Leviathan was the largest deep water discovery in a decade, prompting U.S geologists to predict that even more gas lies off Israel’s shores.

While for decades, the Jewish state possessed few traces of profitable fossil fuels such as coal, oil, or gas, its sudden resource wealth is sending politicians, economists, and citizens into a frenzy over the future of an energy independent Israel. Israel will become a net energy exporter by 2017, an unlikely phenomenon in the nation-states short history. Policymakers such as Brenda Shaffer of the Mediterranean Policy Program believe Israel’s natural gas reserves can be used as a bargaining tool to coax unfriendly states such as Turkey into better relations with the Jewish state. This theory, known as “gas for peace” has been widely circulated amongst Middle East energy experts and is gaining support amongst certain circles.

Yet the ways in which Israeli energy wealth will effect relations with Arab states is undetermined. Those that consider “gas for peace” a political possibility have failed to acknowledge the stores of gas of other Levant states, let alone the threat of direct attacks to Israeli drilling platforms by terrorist groups such as Hezbollah. While Leviathan and Tamar have brought unexpected energy independence to the Jewish state, gas has not substantially increased Israel’s geopolitical security in a still hostile region. At best, the energy boom will bring large economic windfall to the Israeli public sector, yet gas will not lead to regional peace or stability. Conversely, Israeli gas has the potential to exacerbate conflicts in the region and hinder attempts at reconciliation due to increased military build-up and competition in the east Mediterranean.

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