Yitzhak Tshuva,  David Bachar
Yitzhak Tshuva Photo by David Bachar
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The battle over royalties on Israel's natural resources is coming to the Knesset today, and so is energy baron Yitzhak Tshuva.

The Knesset Economics Committee is holding a special session this morning, despite being on break, to discuss proposals on raising the state's take of revenues from exploitation of oil and gas finds. Tshuva, whose sprawling Delek Group empire of companies is exploring for fossil fuels, is expected to take part in today's debate.

Today will be the first time that Tshuva publicly faces arguments from parliamentarians, including MK Shelly Yachimovich (Labor ), who advocates raising the royalties. (For a story on Delek executives' failing to convince students to drop their support for higher royalties, see Page 8 ).

He won't be alone. Other gas company executives are expected to attend the special session, as are reps from organizations fighting for higher royalties.

Delek Drilling, a member of Tshuva's Delek Group, has hired lobbyist Israel Yehoshua, who is considered close to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz and National Infrastructure Minister Uzi Landau.

MK Ophir Akunis (Likud ), chairman of the Knesset Economics Committee, supports raising royalties on exploitation of natural gas fields in Israeli territory but agrees it shouldn't be done "retroactively." There is some debate on what constitutes "retroactive" action.

"Israel's citizens should be a partner to the natural resources in the Mediterranean Sea and in the Dead Sea," Akunis said yesterday. He called for amending the 1952 Oil Law, which has never been changed, after "thorough, not populist" debate.

The issue also has a security element in view of reports Iran means to become involved in searching for oil in Lebanese territory, Akunis said.

Coziness between Iran and Lebanon

Meanwhile, Iranian and Lebanese officials both announced a collaborative effort on energy, Arab-language media outlets reported yesterday.

Iran's energy minister, Majid Namjou, met with Lebanon's energy minister, Gebran Bassil and told reporters Tehran would be helping Lebanon to explore for fossil fuel resources and to build refineries. And Iranian Oil Minister Masoud Mir-Kazzemi announced a four-way summit on natural gas to be attended by officials from Iran, Lebanon, Iraq, and Syria.

For months, elements in Lebanon have claimed Israel was encroaching on natural resources that belong to Lebanon, saying part of the gas fields found were in Lebanese territorial waters. Top Hezbollah members threatened the organization would not hesitate to use "any means" to protect Lebanon's resources.

Minister Uzi Landau rebutted that Israel would not hesitate to use its might to protect not only the rule of law, but also international maritime law. "No matter what we find, they'll always have something to say about it," Landau remarked at the time.