Gaza and Gas

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The Turkish-Israeli dispute over natural resources under the eastern Mediterranean’s seabed may soon enter a new and much more dangerous phase.

Last week, it appeared Turkey was going to make good on its threats to stop a joint Israeli-Greek Cypriot venture to explore for natural gas in Greek Cypriot waters and at the same time, militarily challenge Israel’s presence in the Eastern Mediterranean. But as the Texas-based Noble Energy company moved a rig from Israeli waters into position off of Greek Cyprus’ south-eastern coast to begin drilling, Turkish naval vessels and warplanes limited their actions to shadowing the transfer operation, keeping outside of Greek Cypriot waters and airspace. Turkey now appears resigned, at least for the moment, to halting the project through the offices of the United Nations (UN).

But the Palestinian Authority’s bid for statehood at the UN carries an even greater risk of igniting a Turkish-Israeli military confrontation. While the political consequences to Israel of a separate Palestinian state have been much discussed, a lesser known economic factor that is attracting Turkey’s attention also threatens Israeli security and regional peace and stability. Like in Greek Cyprus, that factor is natural gas.

“Deposits worth an estimated four billion dollars lie off the Gaza coast,” a German newspaper reported.

Four billion dollars in natural gas is probably something worth fighting over for an energy-poor country like Turkey. Analyst Boris Kalnoky, writing in the German newspaper Die Welt, believes the gas constitutes the main reason behind Turkey’s belligerence towards Israel regarding Gaza rather than any alleged Palestinian suffering. The supposed Palestinian distress is simply the excuse Turkey is using to justify its threats to break the Israeli blockade of Gaza. The Turkish government has said its warships would escort the next aid flotilla to the Palestinian enclave, thus risking war with Israel.

“That natural gas plays a central role in the dispute with Israel was indicated in a[n] additional comment of [Turkish Prime Minister] Erdogan: Turkey will not allow Israel to exploit  ‘one-sided’ the giant natural gas deposits in the eastern Mediterranean,” wrote Kalnoky.

And those gas deposits are truly gigantic. They are located in what is called the Levant Basin that stretches from Egypt to Syria and includes the waters around Cyprus. The U.S. Geological Survey estimates the coastal areas from Israel’s border with Egypt north to Syria alone contain 122 trillion cubic feet of natural gas. They also may hold “an estimated 1.7 billion barrels of undiscovered, recoverable oil,” which, if true, would certainly add fuel to the current Israeli-Turkish tension.

Israelis reportedly joke that Moses took a wrong turn when leading his people out of the wilderness, taking them to the only place in the Middle East that didn’t have oil. But Israeli discoveries of natural gas offshore in Israel’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ), described as the largest natural gas finds worldwide in the last decade, have helped make up for Moses’ sense of direction. Israel’s two big EEZ gas discoveries are the Leviathan and Tamar fields. The deposits in the Tamar field alone will make Israel self-sufficient in natural gas, thus increasing Israeli security. Deliveries are expected to begin in 2013.

And this couldn’t have come at a better time. Israel presently imports from Egypt 40 percent of its natural gas needs. But this source is becoming more and more unreliable due to Islamist attacks on the Sinai pipeline carrying the gas. As if to emphasise the fragility of this supply, the pipeline was blown up again by terrorists on Tuesday, making it the sixth attack since last February. Such interruptions only increase the importance and the blessing the Tamar field has become.

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  • Larry

    Don't be surprised to see Iranian navy ships getting involved as well.

  • crackerjack

    Mr Brown is missing the main point here. Turkey is NATO. Conflict with a NATO partner would end any Israeli military access to, or cooporation with, the alliance. The notion that NATO chiefs of staff will drop their South-East European cornerstone and nuclear platform to suite the fancy of a non member, goes to show how far Israeli politics has distanced itself from reality.

    NATO is not the Eurovision Song Contest or the European Football Association, where all can make believe that Israel belongs.

    • Ron Lewenberg

      Turkey isn't just messing with Israel. It is messing with Greece, Cyprus, and Russia over the Cypriot gas fields. And Greece is a member of NATO. As for Russia, the recent threat to send 2 nuclear submarines to patrol off Cyprus isn't a joke.

    • New Yorker

      I am not at all convinced that NATO is being amused by Erdogan's nonsense.

    • New Yorker

      Turkey is a NATO member you are saying? Then how come it denied the U.S. – its main NATO ally! – an access to teh Iraqi border from its territory in 2003? Don't you think it has been forgotten. Turkey's goose is likely cooked. A seriously stupid and disastrous move on the part of out-of-control Erdogan will do Turkey in. No NATO member would support him and his increasingly barbaric country in the event of an armed conflict of his own making with Israel or Greece. Just wait and see.

    • SHmuel HaLevi

      Cracker wathever,
      Turkey holds 90 nuclear bombs provided by NATO and US during the Cold War. B-61’s of various rev numbers, at the INCIRLIK TAFB.
      They NATOISTS and other kind of forgot to report that and another 110 bombs spread at various EU locations…
      Turkeu is a NATO peon at best and if the islamic derranged items attack Israel my guess is as good as even yours as to what will happen to Suthern Turkey and a good spread besides that.
      BTW. Russina submarines are posted also nearby and as you may know, there is little possible loss of love between Russian and them Turks.
      So far the noisy venemous snake there is only doing the Ahmedinchub styled empty can rattling.
      As ro Iran…
      The French just passed along to the suicidal maniacs a little note…

      The Israeli and Cyprus-Greece oil and natural gas fields will remain ours and theirs.
      I am not going to bet if anyone trying to take our property will remain though.

  • UCSPanther

    Turkey has several things goings against it. Amongst them, its economy is very weak and unlikely to be able to afford any drawn out conflict that this will undoubtedly create, and second, its military has undergone some purges, which has replaced its experienced officers with Edrogan lackies who are no where near as qualified as the original officers.

    • umustbkidding

      Money will flood into Turkey, all for the cause.

      Just when I was wondering what was next.

  • Dhimmi

    These are worrying times for Eastern Mediterranean.

    Just to clarify: There is no "greek" Cyprus and "Turkish" Cyprus, the entire island is "the Republic of Cyprus". The Republic of Turkey ethnically cleansed/ expelled all non Muslims from the area controlled by the Turkish Army. Ethnic Greeks are only allowed to live in the area South of the cease fire line even they own 87% of legal title to the land in the area controlled by the Turkish Army.

    Also DNA studies have revealed that "Turkish" Cypriots are not that "Turkish". Many are simply the descendants of Greek Cypriots who converted to Islam to avoid paying Dhimmi tax when Cyprus was under Ottoman servitude. Some of the older turkish Cypriots barely speak Turkish and mainly communicate in Greek and practice Christian rituals in secret.

  • StephenD

    Turkey's leadership has made their choice with Erdogan thinking he’s ushering in the world Caliphate. I hope it gets to share in the fate of the folks it has aligned itself with. Israel will not fall to Turkey or Iran without the entire world getting involved. All bets are off at that point. Literally, all hell will break loose then. I just hope America is still able and willing to do the right thing and stand with Israel.

  • maturin20

    This is good news. With this new energy income, American aid to Israel will no longer be necessary.

    • steven l

      Israel has no need for this money. It is well known that the US gets a lot more back than the 3 bil.

      • littlebigman

        It is well known that the US gets a lot more back than the 3 bil.

        So, in fact, Israel is funding the US ?

        Perhaps someone should tell AIPAC. At the moment AIPAC is running on overtime to ensure US Israel funding is excluded from any budget cuts. These good folks could save themselves the trouble. Send them a note.

      • maturin20

        Which money does Israel have no need for, the gas money or the US aid?

        How does the US get more back?

    • Raymond in DC

      That $3 billion should better be called military assistance, not aid. It's provided not just as an *American* interest (as is the US presence in Germany and South Korea at far higher cost) but as a counter-balance to even greater aid provided to Israel's neighbors and enemies (Egypt, Jordan, the Palestinians, Lebanon) not to mention Turkey (which gets at least a quarter billion to "fight terror") and the billions annually to Pakistan – hardly an ally.

      By the way, that $3 billion is less than 2% of Israel's GDP.

      • maturin20

        What's the difference between military assistance and aid?

        Do you think the military aid to Germany and South Korea is warranted?

        If it's a counter-balance to aid provided to Egypt, Jordan, Palestine, Lebanon and Turkey, why isn't this aid removed equally all around?

        If Pakistan isn't an ally, why do we provide them with billions of dollars?

        If it's less than 2% of Israel's GDP, then why do they need it?

  • JOHN

    Let the Magog was begin!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! The Lord himself will be involved in this one!!!!!!

  • pyeatte

    Turkey can stuff it (no pun intended).

  • Ronald W. Carnine

    Turkey either needs to withdraw from NATO or should be removed. Her policies and this new direction her Pres. is leading is nothing but trouble. Israel and Turkey may very well be in a shooting war before too long. Israel needs to stand her ground and NATO needs to back her. She is the best friend that the US has in the area.

  • jlevyellow

    Ronald Carnine wrote, "Israel and Turkey may very well be in a shooting war before too long." Yes, indeed, because they are under time pressure. If Obama loses the election, free play time is over for the power-hungry Turkish government, since the US government will reassert its position in the world. Therefore, expect your expectations to come true in the next few weeks.

  • Raymond in DC

    Israel's gas finds are just part of Israel's energy future. Not mentioned are the enormous deposits of shale oil under Israel's Negev and Arava recently discovered. A pilot project (led by Shell's former chief technologist) will utilize a new method to extract the oil in situ. If proven to be economically viable with manageable environmental impact, Israel could be a major oil player.

  • Jaime

    The enemies of Israel realize that unless Israel is destroyed now in the next 8 months it will become a major world power: superior technology (major world technological corporations: IBM, Microsoft, Intel, Sandisk, Motorola, etc. keep R & D establishments in Israel), sophisticated metallurgical factories like the one bought by Warren Bufet; Pratt & Whitney manufactures jet engine parts in Israel. Most internet enterprises run on patents designed and sold by Israelis. One of the best all volunter armies in the world. Proven capacity to shoot an incoming missile. The addition of large amounts of recoverable fuels would make Israel almost invinsible. Israel supplies Gaza and the West Bank with water and electricity. Are Egypt and Turkey capable of taking care of Gaza?