Ex-Israeli Envoy to Amman Urges Immediate Export of Gas to Jordan

Jordan facing serious energy shortage, says Oded Eran, and Israeli failure to supply gas is failing to harness Israel's energy resources for political, strategic purposes.

Israel should act immediately to begin supplying natural gas to Jordan to help it contend with a serious energy shortage, Oded Eran, a former Israeli ambassador to Amman, said over the weekend.

Israel's failure to supply Jordan with gas is part of policymakers' broader failure to use the country's energy resources for political and strategic purposes, Eran told a conference over the weekend at Tel Aviv University sponsored by the Institutional for National Security Studies.

"What kind of price tag can we put to the strategic value of supplying gas and water to Jordan?" he asked. "Such a discussion simply doesn't exist because it isn't sexy. "

In the case of Jordan, Eran warned, the country is close to an economic breaking point. Jordan had contracted to import some three billion cubic meters of gas from Egypt.

But the same attacks on Egypt's pipeline in Sinai during 2011 that cut off supplies of gas to Israel also left Jordan without any supplies. Eran noted that Jordan is desperately in need of gas after it became host to some 650,000 Syrian refugees in the past year. In the next two years its gas needs will grow to five billion cubic meters annually.

. "From a strategic point of view we have an interest in Jordan existing without these refugees undermining its stability. Therefore, today, without any connection to the discussion on exports, we must link Jordan to Israel's pipeline network," he said.

Last February TheMarker revealed that the partners in Israel's Tamar gas field were conducting secret talks to supply energy to Jordan's Dead Sea potash plant, using a pipeline delivering gas to an Israel Chemicals plant nearby.

Eran suggested that the huge natural gas reserves offshore Israel, Lebanon and Hamas-ruled Gaza could be the source of mutual interests.

"A critical balance of interests has been created. If the Lebanese and the Palestinians have [offshore] gas, does it make any sense to have three pipelines to the shoreline? A situation has been created where we would have joint infrastructure even if there are no direct talks between the countries. A foreign company could approach all three countries and tell them it wants to deliver all the gas through a single joint pipeline."

The government's Zemach committee last year recommended a formula for balancing Israel's domestic energy needs with exports, but the government has yet to approve the proposals and they have come under criticism by environmentalists and others who want to see the gas for clean energy at home.

At the conference, Bini Zomer, director of corporate affairs in Israel for Nobel Energy, defended exports as benefitting the entire country. He noted that two thirds of all the profits derive from gas.

"Gas that stays underground can't be exploited to improve the education, welfare or health of the Israeli public," Zomer said. "The only way to profit from it to export the gas and to sell it."

Energy and Water Minister Silvan Shalom last week recommended to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu increasing the amount of gas to be reserved for domestic use by 20% more than the 450 billion cubic meters that the Zemach committee proposed.

Itai Trilnick