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Gas Find Could Bring Peace or Conflict

April 1, 2011
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Dr. Oded Eran, director of the Institute for National Security Studies (INSS) in Israel, argued in an editorial in Haaretzand in an interview with Bridges for Peace that Israel should consider putting their energy prospects to work for diplomatic benefit. Europe is a key market for natural gas, and Dr. Eran told Bridges for Peace that exporting natural gas to Europe could grant Israel a key tool in relations with their allies to the northwest.

Potential for Peace

“Every quantity will increase the number of sources from which Europe imports its energy, and this will be very important for Europe,” said Dr. Eran. “We are looking for ways of upgrading our relations with Europe—in terms of the economic relations, the scientific and cultural relations, and certainly from the political point of view. So such a deal can obviously be leveraged to improve the bilateral relations between Israel and the European Union.”

Furthermore, the financial benefit to joining the natural gas supply to Europe could prove too significant for regional conflicts to overcome. Speaking prior to the political unrest in Egypt that began in late January, Dr. Eran said that should other Mediterranean coastal nations discover natural gas, there could even be the potential for regional cooperation with Israel to send the gas to Europe. Such a prospect may look like a “utopia,” but he said it is “quite possible.”

Even if the relations between Israel and its neighbors don’t get close enough for bilateral projects, especially with current enemy states such as Lebanon or Syria, there is still the possibility that a third party, such as Europe, could set up the infrastructure needed for Israel and her otherwise mortal enemies to export the energy resources. Looking east, there could also be potential for shipping the gas to Asia. However, Dr. Eran noted that such an endeavor is “certainly more complicated” than sending the gas to Europe. If such projects developed, there is strategic and international-relations potential there as well.

Potential for Conflict

Of course, that’s the good side of the gas discovery. The bad news is that while peace is possible, so is conflict. “If one does not reach these [cooperation] agreements, it could become a serious bone of contention and an unruly competition which may disintegrate into even…armed conflict,” said Dr. Eran. The roots of conflict have already appeared with Lebanon questioning whether Israel’s natural gas discoveries might tread into Lebanese waters, an issue that includes an unclear maritime border. While the issue had not been officially settled as of press time, Dr. Robbie Sabel—a former legal adviser to Israel’s Foreign Ministry, in an article with The Jerusalem Post—claimed that the discovered gas fields should be in Israeli territory. 

Political problems could also make Israel need to use more of its own natural gas, reducing the amount available for export. Israel receives as much as 40% of its natural gas from Egypt, and as demonstrated during the recent uprising in Egypt, that supply could be threatened.

Outside the region, Russia is Europe’s major gas supplier. That position grants important economic and political benefit to the Russians, so how will they respond if Israel makes inroads into their market? Dr. Eran did not think the current Israeli finds would be large enough to threaten Russia, unless other nations in the Mediterranean also made significant discoveries, which could constitute “serious competition.” Said Dr. Eran, “I guess that competition is, first of all, healthy, and I don’t think that the Russians will be that concerned with the quantities, as far as they are known today.” He nonetheless said Russia will watch the situation “very carefully,” noting Israeli media reported Russian energy giant Gazprom was, at one point at least, interested in buying into the Israeli gas discovery and gas shipping markets.

A Long-term Issue


So will the gas lead to cooperation or conflict? Dr. Eran noted that there are many variables at work, some of which, like the peace process, are much larger in scale than natural gas exports. Among other things, the process will take years before actual exporting could begin. “We are dealing with a long-term issue, and there are many unknowns in here.”

With those caveats in mind, Dr. Eran said, “My prediction is that, if the search for more energy continues and the economics of it will justify it, we are going to see some sort of cooperation between the various producers in the region, because it makes no sense for each one of us separately to try and ship its gas to Europe; it becomes more costly [etc.]. And therefore, either directly, which is more difficult to foresee, [or] through a European entity… there will be indirect cooperation because this is a sensible way out of the political impasse.” While it may take years for such estimates to come true, there certainly seems to be real potential for Israel’s gas discoveries to generate diplomacy as well as dollars.

Source: By Joshua Spurlock, BFP Israel Mosaic Radio

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