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August 11, 2022 10:32 am
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Iran’s Long Reach Threatens Israeli Gas Drilling and American Troops

avatar by Ioannis E. Kotoulas

Opinion

London-based Energean’s drill ship begins drilling at the Karish natural gas field offshore Israel in the east Mediterranean May 9, 2022. REUTERS/Ari Rabinovitch

As Israel fights against the Palestinian Islamic Jihad terrorist group in the Gaza Strip, Iran’s proxies keep up the tension on other possible fronts, threatening to bring the confrontation with Israel to the high seas. Now Iran — through Hezbollah — threatens to disrupt Israeli economic activities in the Mediterranean Sea with coordinated drone bomb attacks. It also aims to attack the United States in Iraq and beyond.

Hezbollah has made repeated threats concerning Israel’s Karish offshore gas field near the sea border with Lebanon.

“All the gas fields are under threat and not just Karish,” Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah said in a July 26 interview with Lebanon’s Al-Mayadeen television. “There is no Israeli target, at sea or on land, that [our] precision missiles cannot reach. If Israel produces gas from the Karish rig in September and Lebanon does not get what it deserves, we are going to have problems.”

On Tuesday, Nasrallah repeated his threats. “Any hand that might extend to Lebanon’s natural resources will be chopped off, the same as any hand that tried to extend to its land was chopped off,” he said in a speech before tens of thousands of people marking the holy Day of Ashura.

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The Karish gas field is located in a boundary maritime area that has been partially claimed by Lebanon. Although Lebanon has never filed an official claim to the area with the United Nations, it has attempted to extend its Exclusive Economic Zone. Under American pressure, the two sides have initiated negotiations that have not yet produced tangible results.

Contrary to claims by both the Lebanese government and Hezbollah, the Karish field lies clearly inside Israeli maritime territory, 10 kilometers south of Lebanon’s self-defined maritime border, according to a Haaretz investigation. The field, with estimated reserves of 98.9 billion cubic meters (approximately 267 million barrels of oil), is an essential part of Israel’s attempt to establish itself as a reliable energy provider for the European Union and other regional actors, such as Egypt.

After the war in Ukraine laid bare their energy dependency on Russian fossil fuels, EU officials have been trying to establish effective cooperation with outside energy providers in the Mediterranean, including Israel.

In June, Israel, Egypt, and the EU signed a landmark deal providing for Israeli natural gas to be exported through Egyptian ports to energy-hungry European markets.

In early July, Israel shot down three unarmed Hezballah drones that were sent to the Karish gas field. Hezbollah said it was a warning to Israel to deter any further economic activity in the region before an agreement with Lebanon has been reached.

Israel sent its own message. Defense Minister Benny Gantz said right after the incident: “The State of Israel is prepared to defend its infrastructure against any and all threats.” Energy Minister Karine Elharrar reinforced Israel’s resolve by visiting the Karish gas field a few days later.

The Karish gas field is expected to become fully operational and start producing its first gas exports next month. Hezbollah’s threats to attack the Israeli installations need to be taken seriously.

And the terror group’s threats about Karish production extend far beyond Israel. “The ships that extract the gas are Israeli, even if under a Greek banner,” Nasrallah said in his interview. Greek-owned ships are expected to carry the gas to EU markets.

Nasrallah demanded that the Greek firm withdraw its ships from the sea area, warning that it would be “fully responsible” for any human or material loss that could occur in the event of an attack.

Iran also is causing considerable tension for the United States and its allies. The Iranian proxy militant Shia group Ashab al Kahf (“Companions of the Cave”‘) last week accused NATO, the United States, and the United Kingdom of interfering in Iraqi politics and provoking political unrest.

Tensions are mounting in the Iraqi political scene between the Shia Coordination Framework — an umbrella coalition of Iranian-backed parties — and Iraqi nationalist Shia cleric Moqtada al Sadr over the formation of the government. Sadr’s supporters twice stormed Baghdad’s fortified international and government district, the Green Zone, last month and occupied the Parliament until the Iranian-backed parties granted by their demands.

The threats by Iranian proxies in both Iraq and Lebanon seem to be coordinated with Iranian authorities in a spiral of renewed hostile rhetoric against Israel, the US, and their allies. It remains to be seen if those threats will translate into action.

Ioannis E. Kotoulas (Ph.D. in History, Ph.D. in Geopolitics) is Adjunct Lecturer in Geopolitics at the University of Athens, Greece. A version of this article was published by The Investigative Project on Terrorism.

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