JERUSALEM—Israel announced on Sunday the discovery of a major offshore gas field, the third to be located in its waters in the past five years, augmenting its newly acquired status as an energy power.
The new field, some 90 miles off Israel’s coast in the eastern Mediterranean, holds at least 3.2 trillion cubic feet (TCF) of gas, according to a 3D seismic survey. Two larger fields, discovered in 2009 and 2010, have combined reserves of at least 33 trillion cubic feet. These fields are expected to serve the bulk of Israel’s gas needs for the coming century. Experts say that further exploration will likely uncover other sizeable fields in Israel’s deep offshore waters.
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The gas discoveries will have a major impact on Israel’s economy and perhaps even on its relations with Arab neighbors. Jordan, the Palestinian Authority, and Egypt are all in urgent need of energy supplies and Israel would be the natural supplier. Israel’s proximity would make the gas significantly cheaper than gas they could acquire from any other source.
It would be difficult politically for Arab governments to import gas from the Jewish state given the current tensions in the area. However, American firms, which are consortium partners with Israeli firms in the gas exploration, have already begun to act as intermediaries between Israel and these potential customers.
Until five years ago, Israel was almost entirely dependent on the import of coal and other energy sources. Offshore natural gas has now become a major, and growing, element in electrical production in Israel and in its industrial sector.
The drilling of an exploration well in the newest field, named Royee, is expected to get underway in December 2015.
The sprouting of gas rigs in the waters off Israel’s coast also creates a major security problem. The sites constitute a potential target for missiles fired both by Hamas in the Gaza Strip and Hezbollah in Lebanon. Terrorist attacks in explosives-laden speedboats are another concern. The Israeli navy has been patrolling the gas fields. It recently asked Germany to sell it three missile boats to beef up security around the rigs. The boats' missiles would be capable of intercepting incoming missiles.
However, both Hamas and Hezbollah have reasons to refrain from attacking Israel’s seemingly vulnerable offshore assets. For one, any such attack would undoubtedly induce a massive Israeli response. Beyond that element of deterrence, both Hamas and Lebanon have reason to believe that gas, perhaps even oil, lies off their shores as well and they would not want Israeli retaliation when they begin to mine their waters.