The 'Terrible' Gas Deal That Spells Success for Israel

Despite naysayers' predictions, Leviathan is already being developed, and there is already a first customer: Jordan.

A protest against the gas deal in Tel Aviv, February 22, 2016.
Tomer Appelbaum

It’s really becoming unbearable. One mess after another. How much more can we take from this awful gas deal?

On Sunday, Israel’s new Ambassador to Turkey, Eitan Na’eh, presented his credentials to Recep Tayyip Erdogan, after six years of no diplomatic relations following the Marmara incident. And last week, the Turkish state prosecutor announced the cancelation of the cases against the members of the Israeli Navy commandos and senior officers for their involvement in the Marmara raid.

The gas deal is to blame for both. Why? Because Erdogan could have signed a reconciliation agreement with Israel three years ago, after Netanyahu apologized to him and was ready to pay compensation to the families of those killed on the Marmara. But the Turkish president refused.

Off Haifa coast, oil rig at enormous Leviathan natural gas field.

He wasn’t interested in reconciliation. The turnabout occurred in May, when the gas deal became final and definite, and Erdogan realized that Israel had become a major gas player. He saw that he could purchase gas from Israel and thereby reduce the oppressive dependence on Russia and Vladimir Putin. So he announced that Israel is an important ally for Turkey and in June he signed the reconciliation agreement.

It was no coincidence that Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz was the first minister to visit Turkey after the signing. And now there’s been an exchange of ambassadors, and the legal cases have been dropped. All because of the terrible gas deal.

Shelly Yacimovich and company did their utmost to see that this wouldn’t happen. They fought tooth and nail to stop the deal. They wanted to keep the gas buried deep, and fiercely opposed exporting it as they spread lies about the deal. Yacimovich proclaimed with typical self-assurance: “Leviathan will not be developed,” and contended that the gas should be left in the ground for future generations.

But all the scientists said the use of gas would only be relevant for the next 30 years, after which it would be replaced by other, non-perishable energy sources. So if we don’t export now, we stand to lose 300 billion shekels in income from taxes – meaning less money for health, education and infrastructure. But hey, that’s actually good, for as Lenin reportedly said: The worse things get, the better.

Yacimovich and her friends on the far left (Isaac Herzog not among them) also wanted to nationalize the gas fields. If that disaster would have happened, there would be no development and no exporting, just as is happening now in socialist Venezuela, where Hugo Chavez nationalized the oil fields and wiped out a thriving oil industry, leading Venezuela to poverty and misery.

One of the most outspoken writers against the gas deal is Amnon Portugali (who is introduced everywhere as having a doctorate even though he only holds a bachelor’s degree, in a field unrelated to economics). He has repeatedly written: “Leviathan will not be developed The gas will remain in the bottom of the sea.” He has helpfully explained that “there is no one to whom to sell the gas and no technical-economic possibility of laying a gas pipeline to Europe.” But Leviathan is already being developed, and there is already a first customer: Jordan.

Leviathan’s development will mean growth from the $6 to $7 billion in investment that will come three years from now, when the gas begins to flow. Likewise, the Karish and Tanin gas fields were recently sold to a Greek company, despite opponents’ prophecies that this would never happen either.

But all this is nothing compared to the following “debacle”: Last week, at a conference in Houston, Texas, the Energy Ministry made a presentation to 30 major companies about 24 zones in the Mediterranean where gas and oil could be sought. Now competition can be brought into the field. All this, too, is only happening because the gas deal passed, despite all the efforts to torpedo it.

Steinitz (without whom none of this would have happened) is currently holding a series of talks with his counterparts around the Mediterranean basin to build three gas pipelines: one to Turkey, one to Egypt and one to Italy, with secondary stations in Cyprus and Greece. Right now it’s only a plan, but anyone who loves this country should be hoping that it comes to fruition. I have no doubt that Yacimovich is thrilled to hear this good news about the success of the gas deal.