It is hardly a disputed idea that war and hydrocarbons are somehow intertwined. This reminds me of the book by William Engdahl titled A Century of War, which traces the history of oil, its impact on local and international economies and its relation to conflicts from World War I right up to the occupation of Iraq.
Today, we may relate many conflicts around the world to oil, such as the situations in Iraq, Sudan, Syria, Nigeria, Myanmar and so on. Many news reports and analysts relating to the aggression of Israel on Gaza allude to the possibility that Israel is either about to confiscate the marine gas fields or at least control their production and revenue.
Gas was discovered 30 kilometres offshore in what is supposed to be the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) of Gaza. British Gas (BG) signed a 25-year agreement with the Palestinian Authority (PA) in November 1999 to explore for gas in the entire offshore Gaza area, develop any discovered field and construct a pipeline to Gaza. BG is in partnership with Consolidated Contractors Company (CCC), a Greece-based engineering and construction group with a 30 per cent stake, and 10 per cent for the PA.
BG drilled Marine 1 and Marine 2 wells in two fields, confirmed the gas discovery and estimated the reserves to be 1.4 trillion cubic feet (TCF) with the possibility that these can be much higher.
But the development of the two fields could not proceed as Israel prevented any agreement to buy the gas or have it transported to Egypt or Gaza on the grounds that the proceeds would finance “terror”, but actually for an opportunity to claim the fields for itself at a later date.
Even the much bigger discoveries of 25 TCF gas by Israel in its EEZ did not dissuade it form trying to control the Gaza fields or to stop their development.
Previously, Israel discovered a field close to the Gaza zone where its reserves were estimated at 1.5 TCF. The field started production in 2008, and touched 48 billion cubic feet (BCF) but is now thought to be declining. This prompted Israel to import gas from Egypt in a controversial deal relating to its structure and the price of gas, which is reported to be $1.5 per million British Thermal Unit (mbtu) and much lower than market prices at that time.
In 2007, Moshe Ya’alone, the current defence minister of Israel, dismissed the idea that Gaza gas can be economically beneficial to the PA by claiming that the notion is “misguided” and that the “proceeds of a Palestinian gas sale to Israel will likely serve to fund further terror attacks against Israel”. Thus the previous Israeli aggressions of Cast Lead, Pillar of Defence and the current Protective Edge operations are all planned with a gas dimension hidden into them.
Following the recent aggression, the Guardian says: “Mark Turner, founder of the Research Journalism Initiative, reported that the siege of Gaza and ensuing military pressure was designed to “eliminate” Hamas as “a viable political entity in Gaza” to generate a “political climate” conducive to a gas deal.”
In 2012 Israel negotiated with the PA a possible gas deal, but Hamas was excluded and therefore rejected the legitimacy of any deal. The PA weakened the Palestinian position by agreeing to purchase $1.2 billion worth of gas from the Israel Leviathan field over a 20-year period once the field starts production in 2017.
Under pressure from Israel, the PA held several meetings with BG to develop the Gaza fields, with the exclusion of Gaza from access to the proceeds. No wonder that the plan is reported to be the brainchild of the Quartet Middle East envoy Tony Blair, who is also reported to have aborted the sale of Gaza gas to Egypt.
Dr Nafeez Ahmad, an international security journalist and academic, wrote recently in the Guardian that Israel’s aims “besides preventing the Palestinians from exploiting their own resources, is to integrate the gas fields off Gaza into the adjacent Israeli installations” and separate “the Palestinians from their land and natural resources in order to exploit them, and, as a consequence, block Palestinian economic development”.
As early as 2009, Martha Rose Crow writing in www.rense.com said: “The World has been watching Israel’s genocide of the Palestinians for a long time but incredibly, the media never mentions the Palestinians’ natural resources or the fact that Israel has thwarted Palestine’s efforts to develop them.”
All this may explain the ferocity of the current aggression to render Gaza helpless in the hope of turning the population against its leadership, which may open the way to finally stealing the Gaza gas fields. Let us hope they will fail.
The writer is former head of the Energy Studies Department at the Opec Secretariat in Vienna.