En route to a natural gas army
The IDF is apparently going to establish a new military body − a marine border police. Security publications are talking about buying submarines and missile ships, and about an Israeli air station to be built on Cyprus to protect gas rigs.
Who says Israel hasn’t improved its relations with its neighbors? Netanyahu is the first Israeli prime minister to visit Cyprus, and he did so after the historic visit to Israel of the president of Cyprus, Dimitris Christofias, and after the Cypriot defense minister signed cooperation and mutual-assistance agreements with Defense Minister Ehud Barak. This romance between the communist from Cyprus and the neo-liberal from Caesarea, is part of a surprising alliance − a military-economic axis between Israel and Cyprus.
The reason for this sudden love is tens of million of shekels, in the form of natural gas waiting in the depths of the sea between Israel, Cyprus and Lebanon. This fat dowry is the reason for the honeymoon between Israel and Cyprus, which for years supported the Palestinians, but whose sluggish economy needs the gas money.
The natural-gas exploration franchises extend over a huge area, larger than all of Israel’s land mass. This is a new area that must be protected, both from Hezbollah and the Lebanese, who claim the territorial waters have not been correctly demarcated, and from the Turks, who are not enthusiastic about drilling near divided Cyprus and are threatening to send in destroyers.
Opposite them is a power that does not hesitate to get its hands dirty: Yitzhak Tshuva and the American firm Noble Energy, drilling gas in Cyprus, were linked at the time to a struggle in the Sheshinski Committee, which sought to determine the right level at which to tax oil and natural gas production. The committee’s chairman, Eytan Sheshinksi, called that struggle “capital terror.”
Brig. Gen. Aharon Haliva recently told Israel Defense Forces reserve soldiers that, because of their participation in the summer’s social protests, there was no money for missiles for training, and so a huge new army investment is worth considering: The IDF is apparently going to establish a new military body − a marine border police. Security publications are talking about buying submarines and missile ships, and about an Israeli air station to be built on Cyprus to protect the gas rigs. The huge expense will be shouldered by the budget of the IDF, which is becoming the IDGF: the Israel Gas Defense Forces. The chiefs of staff are becoming a factor to be considered when it comes to gas production, the heads of the gas tycoons’ security detail.
The transformation of the IDF from the people’s army to the natural gas army seems problematic. But some people are benefiting from it. The law requires a cooling-off period before chiefs of staff can enter politics, and Gabi Ashkenazi − the popular and cooled-off former chief of staff − is currently pocketing NIS 100,000 a month, plus enjoying 3 percent of the shares of Shemen Oil and Gas Exploration, as its chairman of the board.
Ashkenazi will be competing with the rigs of his old rival, Yoav Galant, who is drilling with mining mogul Beny Steinmetz west of the Tamar site, not far from the Lebanese and Cypriot borders. Also among the drillers is former Mossad chief Meir Dagan, and former police commissioners Moshe Karadi and David Cohen. Why do these companies want the generals so much − although they have no experience in continental plates, and are green when it comes to business − and pay them so much?
Well, the pay is not so high. It is actually a wink at future chiefs of staff and retiring defense ministers, whose future is assured if they don’t make trouble and don’t demand that the tycoons participate in their own protection. Like a customer giving a big tip to a waiter who brings him dishes on the house.
In an interview in TheMarker, Ashkenazi said he did not want to turn to weapons trading because it’s “trivial and boring.” Giora Eiland (a consultant at Givot Olam Oil Exploration), admitted that the work involves dealing with regulators, and added: “I know whom to go to.”
When the state is fighting nurses, social workers and outsourced workers over chump change, they should know that the big money goes quietly to good friends, on the house.