The Tzemach Committee’s minutes were published this week on natural gas export policy. All of the committee’s members supported the export of the gas discovered in the last four years off Israel’s shores.
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The committee members disagreed, however, on the quantity of gas to be exported and how to export it. The committee consisted of representatives of the Prime Minister’s Office and the finance, energy, foreign affairs and environmental protection ministries, the National Economic Council, the Israel Antitrust Authority and the National Security Council.
Exporting the gas has significant benefits. It ensures the continued search for further reservoirs, enables rapid gas production from the Leviathan reservoir and prevents the gas shortage expected already by the end of the decade. It will strengthen Israel’s geopolitical status and funnel the gas taxation revenues into the state’s coffers faster. The total income in the next 25 years is estimated to be some $100 billion.
On the other hand, gas export raises fears. It may come at the expense of the local economy, leaving the next generation without an energy source ensuring clean, cheap electricity. It may sentence Israel to additional decades of shaky energy security and dependence on foreign suppliers. It could lead to scrapping the plans to wean the country of petroleum in transportation, foil the development of gas-based, high-employment industry and even have an adverse effect on the currency exchange rate.
The decision in favor of one of these two legitimate positions is difficult and complicated, because it deals with long-term forecasts and leans on assumptions that are unavoidably speculative.
Even the Tzemach Committee, despite its respectable members and the long time at its disposal, failed to examine all these assumptions in the required depth.
However, since a decision is necessary, we must find the balance that ensures the immediate benefits that the natural resources hold, while preserving the public interest. Therefore Israel must adopt the interministerial committee’s recommendation to export the gas. But at the same time, it must adjust the export quotas to a dynamic reality, listen to the new industry entrepreneurs, and ensure that the gas sale benefits the public − by means of fair taxation on the profits and the directing of the proceeds to worthy causes.