It's Time for Full Transparency in Controversial Gas Deal

The natural gas affair does not give Israelis grounds to trust that their elected officials are doing their best for them.

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An Israeli gas platform controlled by the U.S.-Israeli energy group Noble and Delek, is seen in the Mediterranean sea, some 24 km west of Israel's port city of Ashdod.Credit: Reuters

The main problem unmasked by the controversial natural gas plan is the government’s decision-making process and way it’s managed. The greatest embarrassment was the panicked running about through the Knesset hallways, trying to break down regulatory walls and extricate the natural gas market from its paralysis.

Since natural gas was found at sea about six years ago, Israel’s government has not acted wisely enough to set out a policy that combines the interests of the natural gas companies with those of the public. The natural gas plan was finally revealed on Tuesday, following intense public pressure and only after a Knesset vote was postponed because the prime minister had failed to secure a majority.

It was also revealed that the meetings of the government team dealing with the natural gas plan were not regularly documented, as is the norm for such momentous decisions. Later Tuesday, State Comptroller Joseph Shapira asked Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz to postpone the cabinet’s approval of the plan and to hold a cabinet meeting about it only after he releases the critical report being prepared by his office on the state’s conduct in the natural gas market.

All this raises the concern that the decision-making process did not lead in the final analysis to the best outcome in terms of Israel’s economy. Moreover, over the past six months, three different plans were published with regard to natural gas. Thus, the gas companies’ claims of regulatory instability are not baseless.

The result of this conduct is that Israel’s energy economy relies on one pipeline from one gas field (Tamar), and only a handful of industries benefit from the gas reserves along Israel’s coast. Neither Yitzhak Tshuva, who controls the Delek Group, nor Zionist Union MK Shelly Yacimovich, an outspoken opponent of the plan, are responsible. Rather, the government of Israel is to blame in moving ponderously and indecisively over the past six years since gas was discovered.

No one expects the government to acquire the skills of Noble Energy, considered an international expert in gas drilling, and find and produce natural gas on its own. But it is expected to enact policy, open the market and monitor its players effectively for the benefit and needs of the economy. The government has to make major decisions in vital realms, such as security and foreign affairs. The natural gas affair does not give Israelis grounds to trust that their elected officials are doing their best for them.

It is therefore good the public learns the natural gas plan’s details. Now a renewed discussion can take place in the Knesset about the agreement, taking into account the state comptroller’s report as well.