National Security Council head Yossi Cohen told the Knesset Economics Affairs Committee on Sunday that terrorist groups have already tried to hit an Israeli offshore gas rig but missed.
During the committee`s discussions on the government`s natural gas deal with energy companies for the distribution of natural gas from Israel’s offshore fields, Cohen said Israel must protect its maritime assets. ”We are procuring naval warfare vessels designed for this. The navy is prepared to protect the rigs…. Already during Operation Protective Edge there were attempts to hit our rig but fortunately their weapons are not accurate enough and did not succeed in hitting the rig. But the weapons in the hands of the terror organizations surrounding us are already more sophisticated and accurate and our vulnerability has increased.”
Among the terms of the natural gas agreement are requirements that Delek Group and Noble Energy sell their two smaller natural GAS reservoirs Karish and Tanin in 14 months, with Delek completely exiting the Tamar basin in six years and Noble diluting its assets there. The document also establishes some pricing schemes and includes clauses for ensuring stability in the sector. Delek and Noble are able to fully remain in the larger Leviathan reservoir, where development has been frozen due to the ongoing negotiations.
Fully implementing the outline now requires that the economy minister invoke a legal clause to bypass objections of the Antitrust Authority. Following former economy minister Arye Deri’s resignation, it became Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s duty as economy minister to consult with the Economic Affairs Committee prior to activating that clause – known as Article 52.
Committee chairman MK Eitan Cabel (Zionist Camp) addressed the recent decision by international arbitrators to order two state-owned Egyptian companies to pay $1.76 billion compensation to Israel Electric Corporation for halting gas supplies three years ago. Cohen estimated that the decision would not hurt Israel`s ”very important” relations with Egypt, and said that exporting gas would bolster Israel`s relations with neighboring countries. Addressing the international arbitrators` decision, he said ”there is a matter of honor here. [The Egyptians] claim that the state should get involved and annul the decision.”
Cohen said ”Egypt is a large and developing country; the population is large, and its large industry will continue to be a consumer of Israeli gas.”
MK David Bitan spoke about the cost of protecting the offshore gas fields, and said the delay in the development of the fields is causing financial damage because they are not generating any income for the state, which still has to pay for their protection.
MK Yaakov Perry (Yesh Atid) said that in any case Israel would not be able to export gas to Egypt for at least the next three and a half years, and after that ”the picture will change significantly.”
Cabel asked Cohen to address the question of whether the gas deal warrants the activation of Article 52. ”There is an immediate and urgent need to develop the gas market,” the NSC chief said. ”Article 52 will allow this, and that is how I view it. If there is an opportunity to extract gas, produce reserves and improve relations in real time rather than miss the train, it is important that we do this as quickly as possible – and the legal way of doing this is by activating Article 52.”
Yossi Langotsky, the geologist behind Israel`s offshore natural gas field discoveries, called the discovery of the Zohr gas field in Egypt a ”game changer”. According to him, by 2018 Egypt will no longer need to import gas.