Fearing Hezbollah Attacks, Israeli Military Insists Gas Rigs Be Close to Shore

Energy Ministry unmoved as army recommends to situate natural gas rigs differently than initially planned

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Construction of the Leviathan oil rig, May 30, 2018
Construction of the Leviathan oil rig, May 30, 2018
Amos Harel
Amos Harel

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The Israeli army recommends that offshore gas production rigs in the Mediterranean Sea be situated close to the shoreline, for security reasons. It will be easier to thwart any plots by terrorists, first and foremost Hezbollah, from damaging the facility.

The recommendation pertains to the rig that will be built to produce gas from the Karish-Tanin field.

However, the Energy and National Infrastructures Ministry is giving the army’s recommendation the cold shoulder. As far as can be ascertained, ministry officials feel Karish-Tanin isn’t of strategic importance to Israel.

The discussion about where to locate the rigs began some years ago, ahead of building infrastructure to exploit Israel’s biggest gas field found so far, Leviathan. The original plan had been to produce the gas using a big ship anchored by the field, which is about 120 kilometers (75 miles) offshore. But both the army and navy objected, on grounds that production from Leviathan is strategic and needs heavy protection. At least until Navy boats ordered from Germany arrive, it’s too dangerous to leave the facility exposed so far from the shore.

File photo: An Israeli gas platform, controlled by a U.S.-Israeli energy group, is seen in the Mediterranean sea, west of Israel's port city of Ashdod, February 25, 2013. Credit: AMIR COHEN/ REUTERS

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The ministry ultimately decided that the Leviathan rig should be placed 10 kilometers (six miles) off the Dor Beach shoreline, which drew protests from local residents, in anticipation of a disaster happening if the rig is attacked, or in the case of an accident. The rig is meanwhile being constructed in Houston, Texas, and is supposed to arrive in about six months. Last week Ynet published an opinion by the Navy on Leviathan. The opinion, which had apparently been consolidated a couple of years ago, claims that building the rig close to the shore will enable it to be better protected, including by the air force (a reference to the Iron Dome system). The military's recommendation was to place the rig up to 15 nautical miles (28 kilometers) from the shore. The Energy Ministry determined that it would be built 10 kilometers from the shore, due to geological reasons.

Meanwhile however, Moshe Ya’alon, the former defense minister, says that in contrast to media reports, the decision to put the rig near the shore was not made during his term of office (2013 to 2016). If anything, Ya’alon said he sees the security-related upside of it being far from the coast. On Sunday Ya’alon told Army Radio that he had asked the state comptroller, Yosef Shapira, to look into how the decisions regarding the rig were made.

But it now transpires that the army is repeating its recommendation to place the rig near the shore in the case of the Karish-Tanin site, too, which is a smaller field about 10% the size of Leviathan.

Karish-Tanin is northeast of Leviathan, relatively close to the Lebanese border, and about 100 kilometers from the Israeli shore. It is expected to start producing gas in three to four years.

In this case too, a question arose as to where to place the rig, and the Energy Ministry decided there was no reason it shouldn’t be right by the field itself, explaining that in contrast to Leviathan, it wasn’t “strategic.” But late last year the army appealed that decision. The document insisting that the rig be placed near the shore was compiled by the navy, based on an analysis of the benchmark scenario, the risk of damage to the rig. The recommendation appears in a letter signed by the deputy chief of staff, Major General Aviv Kochavi, sent a month ago to Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz, with the blessing of the Defense Ministry.

However, the Energy Ministry isn’t losing any sleep over the new army recommendation.

A top source at the ministry recently told Haaretz that the letter had arrived, but he sees no reason to build another rig near the coast, absent strategic risk. The army spokesman said in reply to Haaretz that while planning the development of the gas project, the army conveyed its recommendations in support of proximity of the facilities to the shore, for security reasons. These considerations are part of the total considerations factored into development of the gas field.”

On Tuesday, the IDF Spokesperson's Unit issued another comment, saying that within the framework of the plan for defending economic waters approved by the government, the army has been tasked with protecting them.

"The IDF, through its naval branch, knows how to provide protection for the entire economic waters perimeter. That being said, placing the facilities closer to the shore, up to 15 miles, would improve the level of their defensibility," said the statement.

With that, it added, "we would emphasize that deciding the location of the rigs along the perimeter is not subject to security considerations alone and is not under the authority of the IDF."

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