The Middle East Channel

Defending Israel’s Natural Gas

As offshore natural gas production snowballs in Israel and private companies begin to announce plans for exports, it has become all too clear that the country lacks the kind of comprehensive energy policy that a resource-rich state needs. Between the government's inability to allocate specific and sufficient funds for defending natural gas installations, minimal environmental regulation, lack of infrastructure, and new threats like cyber warfare and the accumulation of advanced weapons systems by non-state actors, Israel is unprepared to face the challenges associated with protecting its gas reserves. Some steps have been taken recently toward crafting a plan, but the technological, financial, and strategic aspects of what should be a national energy security policy still have a long way to go.

While rig owners have private armed security forces on each platform, the ultimate responsibility to protect these installations lies with the Israeli navy, since the country's coastline is not long enough to merit a separate coast guard. Navy patrol boat vessels currently patrol in the vicinity of this infrastructure -- about 12 miles from Ashdod -- but the military only has 13 fast attack ships. The Super Dvora-class Mark III and Shaldag Mark III patrol craft designated for this purpose, in addition to recently acquired Dolphin submarines from Germany, cannot on their own protect Israel's exclusive economic zone (EEZ), which is almost twice the size of the country itself.

The typically underfunded navy recognizes this reality, but while Israel's defense budget is expected to increase in 2014 following a spat with the parliamentary finance committee, no specific amount has been allocated for defending natural gas platforms. On one hand, the ministry of defense and the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) contend that more than $860 million is needed in the form of a one-time budget allocation plus annual operations costs for large patrol vessels, extended surveillance and intelligence capabilities, and Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs). The ministry of finance, on the other hand, claims that threats are overestimated and defending installations would only cost about $200 million. Meanwhile, the state's national security council, which has conducted its own preliminary report, recommends spending about $775 million. There is certainly a government-wide understanding that protecting offshore gas fields and installations is a national security issue that requires funding, but it seems there is little impetus for expediting an actual decision.

Such a large sum of money is needed in part because the Israeli navy's equipment is in dire need of upgrades to counteract new types of threats such as cyber attacks, guided missiles, and UAVs. The navy worked with Israeli defense companies on a new long-range air defense system to be installed on missile ships, and improved coastal electronic sensors as well in 2013. In December, Israel signed a deal to buy two German-built MEKO class F221 frigates to patrol offshore gas fields for $1.37 billion. Still, IDF officials admit that they cannot adequately secure the infrastructure at sea with their current resources. They worry that the installations are still a "sitting duck" for terrorists, and a recent report that Hezbollah is smuggling advanced guided-missile systems into Lebanon from Syria indicates that the potential for non-state actors to acquire the best non-conventional technology is a reality.

Israel's lack of domestic natural gas infrastructure is a third impediment to energy security. Until the Leviathan field comes online, Israel's gas market will be based solely on the Tamar field, which began production in March, 2013. There is only one production treatment platform, located about 12 miles from Ashkelon and 12 miles from Gaza, which has only one terminal, in Ashdod, and there is only one pipeline to deliver the gas to the Mediterranean coast for local consumption. There is consensus among the Israeli policy community that it is only a matter of time until an attack of accident leaves Israel sitting in the dark or relying on alternative expensive sources of fuel. Given that natural gas is expected to account for the majority of Israel's energy supply, diversifying entry points to the shore and constructing additional refineries and treatment sites is essential to security.

Environmental protection and regulation is yet another missing component of a comprehensive energy security policy. Israel's supervisory laws, which provide for oversight on industrial activity, apply to the country's territorial waters but not to its EEZ, where most hydrocarbon drilling is done. This means that no one -- including exploration and production companies -- can "legally be accountable for damages that ensue there." Nor does the planning committee have jurisdiction over the EEZ, which gives gas companies free reign to operate without being required to perform due diligence, such as environmental-impact studies of drilling plans and safer alternatives. New guidelines have been proposed, but that legislation is not expected to pass in the immediate future, and it does not satisfy environmental groups, which lambaste loopholes in the text that could result in a disaster.

Even though a comprehensive energy security policy is nonexistent, Israel has made some progress in asserting and enunciating a strategy. Natural gas platform defense is now unified under the navy, which is considered to be the only entity capable of protecting the EEZ. Rigs will still have private security forces, but they will always have to coordinate with the IDF. The government also changed the law forbidding the protection of infrastructure outside Israeli territorial waters, enabling the navy to extend its jurisdiction to the EEZ.

Despite the success of these important initiatives, the bigger picture remains a cause for concern. Any energy security policy advanced by Israel must be a comprehensive, concerted, and cohesive effort that mitigates any and every possible threat. Until this strategic necessity becomes a top priority for Israel's policymakers, the country will be subject to enormous risk.

Allison Good is a freelance writer based in Washington, DC. Follow her on Twitter: @Allison_Good1.

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The Middle East Channel

World Leaders Bid Farewell to Former Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon

Israeli officials and international dignitaries bid farewell at a state ceremony Monday to former Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, who died at the age of 85 on Saturday. Sharon had been in a coma since suffering from a stroke in 2006. He was one of Israel's greatest, but most controversial, figures. A longtime proponent of Jewish settlements on lands won in war, Sharon surprisingly led a historic withdrawal from the Gaza Strip in 2005. He was revered as an Israeli statesman, but widely hated within the Arab World. No leaders from Arab countries, Africa, or Latin America attended Monday's ceremony. At the memorial, Israeli President Shimon Peres called Sharon "a military legend" who "defended this land like a lion." Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, a political adversary to Sharon, noted, "I did not always agree with Arik, nor did he always agree with me," but he referred to him as "one of the greatest military commanders the Jewish people have had." U.S. Vice President Joe Biden called Sharon "a complex man" whose "actions earned him controversy and even condemnation" but said that "like all historic leaders, all real leaders, he had a north star that guided him." Later, at a service near the Negev city of Sderot, close to the Gaza Strip, Sharon was buried beside his wife, Lilly, at his family ranch. Meanwhile, Palestinian militants fired two rockets from the Gaza Strip on Monday, but neither reached Israel and there were no injuries reported.

Syria

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov discussed cease-fire zones for Syria during talks in Paris Monday. According to Kerry, there was a possibility of trying to encourage a localized cease-fire in the northern city of Aleppo. Additionally, Lavrov mentioned that the Syrian government had indicated it might allow access for humanitarian aid to areas under siege, such as East Ghouta. U.N. humanitarian affairs chief Valerie Amos said she had spoken to the government to obtain humanitarian access to such communities that have been cut off due to fighting, some for over a year.  Lavrov additionally stated that Iran and Saudi Arabia should participate in the upcoming peace conference set for January 22 in Switzerland. Kerry said Iran would be "welcome" if it agrees to President Bashar al-Assad's transition from power. At a "Friends of Syria" meeting in Paris, the United States, Britain, France, Germany, Italy, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Egypt, and Jordan issued a joint statement urging the opposition Syrian National Coalition (SNC) to attend the peace talks. Kerry said, "I am confident personally that the Syrian opposition will come to Geneva," after meeting with SNC leader Ahmad Jarba. The coalition said it would decide on its participation on January 17.

Headlines

  • The sixth month interim deal aimed at curbing Iran's nuclear program will go into effect on January 20 with negotiations between Tehran and six world powers likely to resume in February.
  • Libya's deputy industry minister, Hassan al-Droui, was shot and killed Saturday in the first assassination of a senior official in the country since the ouster of Col. Muammar al-Qaddafi.
  • The Yemeni government has deployed troops to the northern province of Saada to monitor a cease-fire between Shiite Houthis and Sunni Salafis after an estimated 210 people have been killed in over two months of fighting.
  • Turkey's ruling AK Party is seeking to increase control over the Internet in a move seen as part of a trend to concentrate power in response to a corruption investigation.

Arguments and Analysis

'The Sharon Doctrine: The Mixed Legacy of an Israeli Unilateralist' (Hussein Ibish, Foreign Affairs)

"Sharon was not the Israeli leader who would make a final peace agreement with the Palestinians. But he did take a major step, the implications of which Palestinians and Israelis alike cannot underestimate: he evacuated settlements in both Gaza and the northern West Bank. Sharon did not do this in the interests of peace. He did it as an Israeli national imperative, and a way to resolve a strategic liability. Sharon's action is sometimes erroneously described as a 'withdrawal' from Gaza, but Sharon more accurately termed it a 'unilateral redeployment.' In other words, Sharon's shift was not one towards an agreement with the Palestinians, but rather towards increased Israeli unilateralism. His action was entirely pursuant to Israeli interests and conducted without any agreement on the Palestinian side.

In his unexpected action, Sharon faced and overcame substantial resistance from the settlement movement in Israel. By explaining why the evacuation was a strategic and military necessity, he ultimately mobilized the support of a large Israeli majority. Indeed, the experience led him to leave the Likud and form a new center-right party, Kadima, shortly before the stroke that incapacitated him. Several Israeli journalists have suggested that Sharon was anticipating repeating a larger withdrawal in the West Bank should he become Kadima's first prime minister.

There are two crucial lessons to be drawn from Sharon's last major action and final legacy, one positive, the other negative. On the positive side, Sharon demonstrated that settlements can, in fact, be evacuated. Because of his actions, it is no longer even possible to ask whether the Israeli government is capable of dismantling settlements. The questions are simply when and where they will choose to do so. And that means that none of the existing settlements and other demographic, infrastructural, topographic, or administrative changes Israel enforces in the occupied territories should be regarded as irreversible. The implications of this for the prospects of a two-state solution are profound."

'The jihadists may have gone too far' (The Economist)

"Weakened central control in Syria and Iraq has opened space for ISIS's brand of extremism, and the sectarian politics of both Mr Maliki and Bashar Assad's Syrian regime have prompted some hapless Sunnis to embrace the group. And yet few actually agree with its radical ideas. Unlike other Syrian rebels, ISIS had its sights set not on capturing the capital, Damascus, but on creating its own Islamic state in the area between eastern Syria and north and western Iraq.

ISIS's methods, as well as its reliance on foreign fighters, are also unpopular. Even al-Qaeda's chief, Ayman Zawahiri, has criticised ISIS's indiscriminate attacks against Shias as well as moderate Sunnis. Its imprisonment of scores of aid workers and journalists, as well as Syrian activists and minority Kurds, Christians and Alawites, has tarnished the rebel movement as a whole, frightening off the foreign press and would-be providers of aid, especially from Western countries. The hostages may be held as an insurance policy against imagined future Western drone strikes or other military actions. But many Syrians unsurprisingly regard the tactic as evidence that ISIS, despite its fighting prowess, has thereby bolstered the regime, if it is not actively colluding with it."

--Mary Casey & Joshua Haber

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