Opinion |

When Israeli Gas Stays in the Ground, Everybody Loses

Nehemia Shtrasler
Nehemia Shtrasler
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The "Leviathan" gas field.
The "Leviathan" gas field.Credit: Marc Israel Sellem
Nehemia Shtrasler
Nehemia Shtrasler

The cult of the natural gas charlatans couldn’t believe this was happening. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan invited Israeli President Isaac Herzog to Ankara to discuss the sale of gas to Turkey. He couldn’t understand why this cult continues to oppose the development of Israel’s gas fields in the Mediterranean. Don’t they realize that they have a treasure in hand?

The impetus for the meeting with Herzog was Turkey’s dire economic situation. In 2021, inflation hit 36 percent, the Turkish lira lost 47 percent of its value, unemployment rose to 12 percent and the standard of living is declining. And Erdogan, who is up for reelection next year, is keenly aware of what an effect the economic situation can have at the polls. Therefore, he is searching for economic projects that will bring revenue, employment and hope to Turks. This is the reason he has been wooing Israel.

Erdogan proposes laying a gas pipeline on the sea bottom from the Leviathan gas field to Turkey and from there to Europe. A pipeline to Turkey would stretch for 650 kilometers at a cost of $2 billion – much cheaper than a pipeline to Europe via Cyprus and Greece. The pipeline would supply gas for local consumption in Turkey and continue from there to Western Europe, which would enable Erdogan to collect hefty transit fees.

Aside from the economic benefit, the pipeline also offers a strategic benefit. Erdogan does not want to be dependent upon Putin’s gas. Turkey is a member of NATO and Erdogan also wants the country to become part of the European Union. Currently, Russia supplies 50 percent of Turkey’s gas consumption, and 40 percent of Western Europe’s. Thus, both Turkey and Europe want gas from Israel, in order to reduce their dependence on Putin. And we have a large gas surplus in the Leviathan and the Karish and Tanin natural gas fields.

This isn’t the first time that the idea of a pipeline has come up. A previous attempt to export gas to Turkey was made in 2016 by then-Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz. The negotiations were progressing well until the Turks cooled on the idea in 2017 and the discussions were halted. Let’s hope that things will be different this time.

And this isn’t the only strategic project in the field. Europe’s need for gas, and the sharp rise in the price of gas – a process that predates the war in Ukraine – are creating the possibility of laying another natural gas pipeline via the sea to Egypt, where the gas would be liquified and transferred to Europe. That would be a most welcome development too.

In any event, Israel has become a regional power à la natural gas. It is a distinguished member of the East Mediterranean Gas Forum. It sells gas to Jordan and Egypt, and now possibly to Turkey, too. Just a month ago, Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah al-Sissi personally welcomed Energy Minister Karine Elharrar to a regional energy conference in Cairo. Who would ever have imagined that?

All of this good news is making the cult of the gas charlatans unhappy. They want to leave the gas in the ground, which will cause shortages, poverty and hardship. For years, the high priestess of the cult, Shelly Yacimovich, kept saying: “Best for the gas to stay in the ground… The Leviathan gas field will not be developed… There will be no exporting of gas to Egypt.” Today she doesn’t even apologize.

Her friend, Miki Haimovich, also recommended leaving the gas in the ground. And they have recently been joined by Elharrar, who halted the searches for gas in the Mediterranean, an irrational act that is only causing harm. Why should it bother her to see exports grow, more taxes collected and more young people finding interesting employment?

It’s time to understand that if the cult of the gas charlatans had succeeded in its machinations and halted the development of the Leviathan gas field, today we’d be swamped by legal battles and wouldn’t have enough gas for our own consumption, let alone for export. We would be importing vast quantities of expensive coal and fuel oil, and the air pollution would be staggering. And instead of paying $4.50 per therm, we’d be paying $20-30 per unit of liquid gas that we’d be importing by ship, and the price of electricity would soar and lead to general price hikes and massive protests.

And who would be heading the protests against the rising cost of electricity? Haimovich, Yacimovich and Elharrar.

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