Israel’s Natural Gas Supply Is a Game-Changer
“Russia Cuts Gas, and Europe Shivers,” the New York Times reported on January 6, 2009, after Russia shut off gas exports to Europe due to a pricing dispute with Ukraine. From France to Turkey, nations across Europe went without power — and the incident underscored Russia’s outsized hold on European gas supplies.
Fast-forward nearly a decade later, and Europe is on the verge of relief from an unlikely source: Israel.
While approximately 60 percent of the world’s oil reserves are found in the Middle East, none of them are found Israel. Israel has been striving for decades to reduce its reliance on foreign sources of energy, by developing nuclear and solar technology, among other methods.
Then the game-changer occurred: the discovery of the Tamar and Leviathan natural gas fields off the coast of Haifa in 2009 and 2010. They were among the largest offshore finds in the world.
The Tamar field has been producing natural gas for the Israeli market during the past few years, and natural gas now meets 60 percent of Israel’s energy needs, with coal and diesel filling in the rest. But when the Leviathan field comes online in 2019, it will help Israel achieve a level of energy independence that the Jewish state has never known.
Israeli Energy Minister Dr. Yuval Steinitz, who will be speaking in New York City on May 7, has articulated a goal of natural gas eventually providing 80 percent of the country’s electricity needs. Perhaps more importantly, Israel’s new gas fields will make the Jewish state a global energy player for the first time in its history, greatly altering its political and economic clout throughout the Middle East and Europe. Steinitz has said that he sees the eastern Mediterranean becoming the new North Sea.
Jordan has already signed a $10 billion deal to import Israeli gas, and Europe is next. Israel, Cyprus, Greece and Italy recently agreed to a $6.4 billion plan to construct the world’s longest underwater pipeline, which would bring Israel’s natural gas into the European market. The deal was supported by the EU’s Climate and Energy Commission, which said that it would help limit reliance on Russian-supplied gas.
The benefits of Israel’s new energy sector might also extend beyond the economic. Will Israel see more political support in Europe due to the gas deals? Will European governments back away from their support of BDS?
Time will tell, but like other energy exporters, Israel may finally have the leverage it needs to get the fair treatment that it deserves.