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New offshore gas and oil fields.

Arabs, keep out! Israel lays claim to all the resources

For years, various companies have been exploring the hydrocarbon deposits in the Levantine Basin, but only a handful of political and economic leaders were privy to the size of the prize. On 29 December 2010, the Israeli authorities gave Noble Energy Inc. the green light to release the news. The communication, announcing that exploitation was taking off after a political freeze, has been coupled with a diplomatic campaign to allow Tel Aviv to siphon off all the reserves to the detriment of the other coastline states.

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Geographical map of the natural gas and oil reserves location, drawn up by the U.S. Geological Survey. Around 60% of the deposits lie in the waters and territory belonging to Gaza.

U.S.-based Noble Energy Inc. recently announced a massive natural gas field discovery, located 130 kilometers offshore of Haifa [1] and consisting of an estimated 450 billion cubic meters. Resources in the surrounding area should total some 700 billion cubic meters. Exploration and exploitation are overseen by an international consortium composed by the U.S. company Noble Energy Inc., currently the largest shareholder with a 40% stake, plus Israeli enterprises Delek, Avner and Ratio Oil Exploration [2]

This accounts for only a small part of the energy reserves abounding in the Levantine basin, which comprises Israel, the Palestinian territories, Lebanon and their territorial waters. According to U.S. Geological Survey, a U.S. Government agency which has been prospecting in the region for several years, the natural gas deposits in the basin amount to approximately 3 500 billion cubic meters, while the oil reserves have been assessed at 1,7 billion barrels.

The Israeli government, with Washington’s backing, considers it is entitled to all the energy reserves. Israeli national infrastructure minister Uzi Landau declared that the large natural gas fields would not only bring economic benefits to Israeli citizens but could also transform Israel into a gas supplier in the Mediterranean region. However, objected Speaker of the Lebanese Parliament Nabih Berri, Israel is disregarding the fact that, according to the maps, the fields stretch into Lebanese territorial waters. The United Nations Convention stipulates that a coastal state may exploit offshore gas and oil reserves within a zone extending 200 nautical miles (370 kilometers) from the shore.

According to the same principle, the reserves belong in great measure also to the Palestinian Authority. From the map drawn up by the U.S. Geological Survey itself, it emerges that the major portion of the gas deposits (around 60%) lie in the waters and territory belonging to Gaza. Exploitation rights were granted by the Palestinian Authority to a consortium formed by British Gas and its partner Consolidated Contractors (based in Athens and owned by two Lebanese families), of which 10% is held by the Palestinian Authority.

Two wells, Gaza Marine-1 and Gaza Marine-2 are ready but not operational. In fact, Tel Aviv has systematically rebuffed all the proposals from the Palestinian Authority and the consortium to export gas to Israel and Egypt. Therefore, the Palestinians possess vast riches which they are unable to exploit.

To seize the totality of the energy reserves - both Palestinian and Lebanese - bathing in the Levantine Basin, Israel has chosen the military option. The Lebanese Foreign Affairs Minister Ali al-Shami recently urged the UN Secretary General to prevent Israel from exploiting the offshore energy reserves located in Lebanese territorial waters. Minister Uzi Landau claimed instead that the reserves are in Israeli waters and warned that his country will not think twice about employing force to protect them. Israel has therefore threatened to attack Lebanon again, like it did in 2006, with the intention this time of impeding it from exploiting its offshore deposits [3].

It is for the same reason that Israel does not accept a Palestinian state. To do so would imply the recognition of Palestinian sovereignty over a large portion of the energy reserves, which Israel wants to grab. It was to this end that the 2008-2009 "Cast Lead Operation" was launched and Gaza has been caught in the clutches of the blockade. Meanwhile, Israeli war ships control the whole of the Levantine Basin - and hence the offshore oil and gas reserves - within the framework of the NATO-sponsored "Mediterranean Dialogue" to "contribute to the security and stability of the region".

[1] Company’s press release: "Noble Energy Announces Significant Discovery at Leviathan Offshore Israel", Houston, December 29, 2010.

[2] Editor’s note: Delek Drilling, Avner Oil Exploration and Ratio Oil Exploration own 22,67%, 22,67% and 15% of the shares respectively. Since, however, Delek and Avner belong to the same owner, they control 45,34% of the consortium, while Ratio Oil corresponds to private investments through the Bank of Israel.

[3] "Will Israel attack Lebanon to steal its gas?", by Alfredo Jalife-Rahme, Voltaire Network, 22 August 2010.

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