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When Will Israel's Natural Gas Cultists Admit They Were Wrong?

Nehemia Shtrasler
Nehemia Shtrasler
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A view of the platform of the Leviathan natural gas field in the Mediterranean Sea from Caesarea in 2019.
A view of the platform of the Leviathan natural gas field in the Mediterranean Sea from Caesarea in 2019.Credit: JACK GUEZ / AFP
Nehemia Shtrasler
Nehemia Shtrasler

This was a difficult week for the cult of natural gas charlatans. It began with the news that Israel saved an eye-popping 65 billion shekels ($18.8 billion) in 2021 thanks to its massive transition to natural gas. Then came a study submitted to the European Parliament showing Israel could earn 100 billion shekels exporting gas to Europe. That’s a huge sum. And on Monday Energean announced a new natural gas discovery in its Athena drill site, between the company’s Karish and Tanin fields. This gives it a decent chance of becoming a natural-gas powerhouse.

Given all this, it’s astounding that the gas charlatans’ cult has so far kept mum. If it doesn’t come to its senses soon and petition the High Court of Justice for an immediate halt to drilling, if its members don’t hold protests and don’t spread disinformation as they usually do and claim that we’re the losers in this story, Israel might yet become a wealthier, less expensive country that exports gas to Europe and adds billions of dollars to its coffers. And that would be a real disaster for the cult members.

To be clear, it was far from obvious we would ever have natural gas. The cultists did everything in their power to keep it deep underground, and they almost succeeded. They filed countless High Court petitions against the drilling, disseminated lies to the media, staged endless demonstrations, smeared and libeled.

The cult’s honorary president, former MK Shelly Yacimovich, preached in countless interviews that “it’s better for the gas to stay in the ground,” that a deal with the natural gas companies “will never be implemented,” that “the Leviathan field will never be developed” and that “Egypt doesn’t need gas from Israel and there will be no exports to Egypt.” Isn’t it time for her to apologize?

Once, at a convention in Eilat of the Manufacturers Association of Israel, she said the deal with the gas companies was bad for manufacturers. To her surprise, some of them got up and shouted at her, “We want the gas on the existing terms, now, with no further delays.” After all, the delays she had already managed to cause had done the economy enormous harm.

Nor is Yacimovich alone. MK Michal Rozin (Meretz) heatedly demanded that the gas deal be stopped, and so did then-MK Dov Khenin (Hadash), who termed it a “robbery.” Today, he sees the gas exports to Jordan and Egypt and sees Turkey seeking a rapprochement with us because of the gas, and it pains him. Nor should we forget MK Miki Haimovich (Kahol Lavan), who demanded that the gas be left deep under the sea. And these are just a few examples.

Today, the situation is different. Given all the successes, cult members claim they never seriously intended for the gas to remain underground, but only wanted to “improve” the deal with the companies. But that’s a big lie. They absolutely did intend to leave it underground.

Moreover, “making improvements” is the last refuge of the scoundrel. It’s a code for a system in which you demand endless, delusional “improvements” that would make the drill sites financially unviable and thereby destroy them.

Cult members claim that the state “caved in to the tycoons and gave them everything they wanted.” But the opposite is true. The state conducted hardball negotiations and scored many wins. For instance, it set up the Sheshinski Committee, which raised taxes on the gas from around 20 percent to roughly 50 percent in an unprecedented retroactive fashion.

Moreover, the deal broke up the gas monopoly and created competition among three different gas fields, soon to be four. This is evident in the fact that we are currently paying only $4.50 per British thermal unit, whereas Europeans are paying $20. Consequently, electricity prices aren’t rising and industrial firms are benefiting from cheap gas.

The government also restricted gas exports to 40 percent of total production, despite the objections of the gas companies, which wanted to export much more. All this is the diametric opposite of capitulation.

But cult members weren’t impressed. They tried to blow up the deal in other ways. They proposed nationalizing the drill sites and having them managed by a government company, which would have liquidated the project. They also proposed raising taxes on the gas to 90 percent, which would have made drilling economically unviable and shut down the gas fields.

So when will some member of the cult finally get up and courageously admit, “We were wrong”?

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