Israel's defense establishment is demanding a one-time budget increase of nearly NIS 3 billion to cover its plan to protect the country's natural gas platforms, located in the Mediterranean Sea.
The plan, which has already been approved by Defense Minister Ehud Barak and IDF Chief of Staff Benny Gantz, calls for adding four new warships to Israel's naval fleet and deploying hundreds of soldiers in the area.
In addition to the warships, Israel Air Force "Shoval" drones will also patrol the area, and intelligence-gathering and radar equipment will be installed on the platforms.
The gas platforms, all of which are privately owned, are located beyond Israel's territorial waters - 12 nautical miles from land - but within Israel's "exclusive economic zone," which stretches up to 200 nautical miles from the coast. This means that legally, the navy may act to prevent the rigs from being attacked.
Currently, the Israel Navy conducts limited patrols in the area with Sa'ar 5 warships. However, when gas from the rigs begins flowing in 2013, the navy plans to expand its presence in the area, as Israel's defense establishment views the facilities as a potential target for terrorist attacks.
Navy commander Ram Rotberg told reporters, "Recently, gas deposits were discovered and the IDF and the Navy were given the mission of protecting this significant economic asset of gas rigs. In order to operate in the naval arena, especially in the exclusive economic zone, the IDF and Navy will have to grow, in order to protect above and beneath the water."
He added that Israel's exclusive economic zone is roughly equal in size to the entire country.
In March 2011, the Knesset passed a law increasing the state's take from the exploitation of natural resources, including offshore gas. The law was based on the recommendations of the Sheshinski Committee, which studied fiscal and tax policy relating to Israel's natural resources.
Dozens of gas fields are located off Israel's coast. The three largest ones – Tamar, Leviathan and Yam Thetis – are owned by businessman Yitzhak Tshuva. Tamar was discovered in early 2009.
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