Nafeez Ahmed: As Israel’s energy issues become more pronounced, repeated military incursions into Gaza show that dominating and exploiting its offshore gas reserves is an increasingly important issue.
ANTON WORONCZUK, TRNN PRODUCER: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Anton Woronczuk in Baltimore.
The Israeli assault on Gaza has dominated international headlines for weeks. The Palestinian death toll has surpassed 1,800, with more than 60 Israelis dead. But what’s gotten less attention is the role that Gaza’s estimated 1.4 trillion cubic [feet of] natural gas reserves, valued at $4 billion, has played.
Now joining us from London to discuss this is Dr. Nafeez Ahmed. His recent piece in The Guardian is titled “IDF’s Gaza Assault Is to Control Palestinian Gas, Avert Israeli Energy Crisis”.
Thanks for joining us, Nafeez.
NAFEEZ AHMED, JOURNALIST, THE GUARDIAN: Thanks, Anton.
WORONCZUK: So let’s start off. What documentary evidence exists that the gas reserves are indeed playing a role here in the latest assault on the Gaza Strip?
AHMED: Well, I mean, obviously the history of this whole issue actually goes back to the date that they were actually discovered, which was around 1999 to 2000. And the gas was at that time discovered by the BG Group, which is a British company. Now, obviously, the Israel-Palestine conflict has gone on much longer than that. But what we’re seeing is since the discovery of gas, you know, fairly significant gas resources in Gaza, we’ve seen that those resources have played an increasing role in determining the course of the conflict.
What’s happened recently is over the last six, seven years or so, increasingly it seems that as Israel’s energy issues have become more pronounced, its repeated military incursions into Gaza appear to have been linked very much to the interest in dominating and exploiting these offshore reserves in Gaza.
Now, there have been many efforts by Israel to come to some kind of an arrangement with its favorite parties, namely the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank, run by Fatah, and to kind of ride roughshod over Hamas, which is seen as an entity that they just simply cannot negotiate with under any circumstances. Now, since Operation Cast Lead, it’s my view that the control of the Gazan marine where we have these offshore gas resources has been an increasingly important issue. In 2007, the current defense minister, Moshe Ya’alon, wrote an article, a paper, a policy paper through some censor for public affairs where he explicitly called for the need for military action to uproot Hamas in order to begin drilling work to bring these gas reserves in Gaza to production. And he basically indicated not only that was Hamas an obstacle to exploiting these resources, but even the Palestinian Authority. Effectively, the scenario that he put forward was that if there was any situation in which any of these Palestinian entities were allowed to begin to produce these resources and benefit from them economically, this would be a major strategic threat to Israel, and the revenues that they would gain, which have been estimated to be anything from around six to seven billion dollars a year, would end up going to fund the resistance, to fund terrorism against Israel, and that would be unacceptable, and therefore it would be unacceptable to ever allow the Palestinian entities in this way to exploit these resources.
So I think there’s two dimensions here. One is basically there is a strategic interest that’s simply preventing the Palestinians from actually using these resources for themselves, for their own benefit, and becoming more independent from Israel in that sense and being more viable as an independent entity, independent state. Of course, the other related issue is really to do with Israel’s own energy needs.
Now, of course, there have been major discoveries of resources which are inside Israeli territory, the Leviathan field, the Tamar field, which are many, many times larger than what has been discovered in Gaza. However, the difficulty here is is that over the last few years, despite these discoveries, Israel has faced many bureaucratic, regulatory, and even geophysical hurdles in actually bringing these fields to production. Now, in another article that I wrote for The Ecologist magazine, where I updated my investigation that I had originally done for The Guardian, I uncovered some Foreign Office, British Foreign Office files that had been obtained under Freedom of Information by a think tank based in Washington, D.C. Not many people know about these files even though they’ve been published online. And those files showed that the British Foreign Office was aware and had actually—was involved in a plan effectively to use Gaza’s gas as a cheap stopgap while Israel is trying to bring these fields to production. In other words, in the interim period, when we have—it could take up to five years to bring the fields to production. What are they going to do in the meantime? They can use this gas.
Well, the difficulty again was Hamas standing in the way and the terms and conditions that Hamas could put and this overall ideology of denying the Palestinians any kind of role in kind of developing their own resources and moving towards an independent trajectory.
So, in my view, when we piece all this together, it seems clear that the Moshe Ya’alon now—at that time, when he first wrote that article, he was a former IDF chief of staff, but now he’s actually again in a senior position in the administration, executing the war plan. It seems clear to me that it’s quite likely that he is executing exactly that plan in order to fulfill this agenda of essentially crushing Hamas and gaining some kind of strategic control over Gaza in order that Israel can, on the one hand, ensure that the Palestinians can’t develop this gas, and on the other hand ensure that Israel is able to develop this gas for its own interest.
WORONCZUK: Well, then, you say that the purpose of this strategically, then, to control the gas, is also to, as you say, avert the Israeli energy crisis. Can you talk about the energy crisis that Israel is facing?
AHMED: Well, this energy crisis has been referred to in a number of the standard Israeli business publications, although it’s not very well known. And that really is to do with the problem of increasing electricity crises and the inability to bring domestic gas resources to production. Now, all the discoveries that have taken place for the last few years, you have many people in the existing oil and gas industry, especially the Israeli oil and gas industry and the U.S. and British oil and gas industry, kind of hyping it up and talking about how Israel is now going to be a major geopolitical force, it’s going to become a net exporter of gas in the region, exporting to Jordan, even as far as Europe, according to some people.
However, there was an interesting report that was unearthed by Haaretz, the liberal newspaper in Israel, where they discovered that the committee that had been set up to basically develop policy on how much gas should be exported and how much gas should be used domestically had actually received an interesting piece of research that was formerly sent to them as part of the committee’s process by its two chief scientists of the energy and water ministries. And these scientists basically said that they believed that the existing kind of forecasts of production and the existing estimates of how much production could actually increase over the next couple of decades or so were actually vastly overestimated, and in fact that the quantity of gas that could be brought commercially into production was actually much lower. And they believed and they advocated that actually Israel has really only two choices. It can either become a net gas importer, in which case it will not have any gas domestically to use for its own needs, or it will have to use this gas domestically for its own needs and not fulfill these aspirations to be an exporter.
So faced with that choice, Haaretz reported that this very important document had actually been suppressed. It was not published as part of the committee’s official reports. It was left out of the website. And it was only after Haaretz publicized the report that the committee published it on the side. So, clearly there was a concern inside the highest level of the Israeli government that this would basically scupper their plans to become a major geopolitical force through this new kind of energy configuration.
So it seems clear to me based on this assessment, if that assessment is correct—and it seems to me that certainly people inside the Israeli administration were worried by it. They saw it as potentially damaging for the reputation, damaging for their potential kind of interests and potential contracts with major companies internationally that were now wanting to invest in Israel, they saw it as something that was dangerous and they needed to suppress, and they were worried—and I do think that it seems that they were worried that it was true, that this gas would not be enough for Israel to both export and meet his domestic needs, so they need something as a stopgap. And this is where the Gaza marine comes in. And according to these FCO files, precisely in this period where we have a gap where there is difficulty in bringing in these existing Israeli fields into production, Gazan marine was seen as basically a potential source that could deal with this energy crisis and allow Israel to have a source of energy, a fairly substantial source, while it’s bringing these into production.
So I think that it’s pretty clear, based on all of this analysis, that this is real, this is a real issue. If you look at what was happening over the last year or so, there were meetings, secret meetings going on between Israeli officials, Netanyahu’s own personal negotiator, and representatives of the BG Group that basically currently holds the right to Gaza’s gas. And interestingly, Palestinian officials, not just Hamas, but even from Fatah, the Palestinian Authority, were excluded from this deal. And this was at the same kind of time when we had the Netanyahu giving lip service to the deal, saying that, yes, we want to push forward negotiations with the Palestinians over Gaza’s gas, and when Kerry, as part of the peace process, had actually put forward an economic stimulus package, and part of that package was the development of the Gaza marine. So we had Netanyahu playing a double game, effectively, on the one hand saying, yeah, we want to have diplomatic discussions about the gas and about Gaza and about a meaningful two-state solution, and at the same time, in reality, as we now know in hindsight from Kerry officials and people involved in the peace process, that actually Netanyahu had no intention, that he deliberately torpedoed that peace process because he doesn’t want an independent, viable Palestinian state, and simultaneously not allowing Palestinian officials to participate in negotiations involving Gaza’s gas.
So if we look at all of this circumstantial evidence over the last year to two years, it seems very clear that Gaza’s energy resources have certainly played a very important role in Israel’s strategic considerations in why it’s going into Gaza—not the only role, by many means—many other factors—but that is certainly an increasingly important issue.
WORONCZUK: Okay. Nafeez Ahmed, thanks for sharing your recent work with us.
AHMED: Thanks, Anton.
WORONCZUK: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.