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A Return to Sinai…from Spy Sharks to Natural Gas.

February 7, 2011

After learning of the Muslim Brotherhood’s desire to break Egypt’s 1979 peace treaty with Israel, a close friend who happens to hold the rank of Major in the IDF exclaimed to me, “Great! Now I can go scuba diving in Sharm el-Sheikh!”  Slightly befuddled by his statement, I asked him how he would manage such a feat in light of current events. He answers in a resounding and distinctly Israeli tone, “We’ll take back Sinai…we did it three times before, WE CAN DO IT AGAIN!”

At first I thought to myself, “why would we want or need to do that at this stage?”. But then the very next afternoon, I catch a serendipitous headline on Bloomberg,”Egyptian Gas to Israel, Jordan May Halt for Two Weeks“. A pipeline, which plays a significant role in providing Israel with 40% of its natural gas, was severely damaged in an explosion. Egyptian state TV insists the damage was the result of a terrorist attack. Egypt’s Oil Ministry, which is currently headed by Sameh Fahmy, maintains that the blast was merely the result of a gas leak.  But Fahmy’s explanation must automatically come into question, mainly because of his controversial stint as Egypt’s ambassador to the U.S. At his post, he was accused of inciting violence against Coptic Christians at the hands of Islamists by portraying Copts as “traitors and separatists”.

Yet the striking aspect of this incident was not so much who or what perpetrated it, but rather where it occurred, namely a wadi (valley) in the northeastern part of the Sinai Peninsula called El Arish. For those not well versed in the history of pre-statehood Israel (when it was still called Palestine), El Arish was within the land mass which was claimed by the World Zionist Organization in 1918. This brings us back to my friend the IDF Major, whose notion of swimming with tropical fish or in this case spy sharks trained by the Mossad, suddenly doesn’t seem as far-fetched as it did when he first blurted it out. In light of the potential negative economic effect this incident may bring on the region, Israel ultimately controlling this piece of property may indeed prove pivotal.

For decades, rabbis and economists alike have commented that finding natural gas and/or crude oil within its borders would lead to the demise of Israel’s innovative spirit and its position as a global leader in the start-up industry. To put it simply, we would become a liberal version of Saudi Arabia, and Golda Meir’s famous quote about Moses leading the Jews to the one place with no oil would be forever nullified. But will it?

For the time being, Israel’s claim to fame in the sphere of natural resource exploration is stumbling across a significant deposit of natural gas off its northern Mediterranean coast in the Summer of 2010. Aptly named The Leviathan, the field contains “at least 16 trillion cubic feet of gas at a likely market value of tens of billions of dollars and should turn Israel into an energy exporter“. But since extracting it has presented itself to be a time-consuming undertaking, Israel may be left with one of two options: a) push Bibi’s timetable of Israel being completely reliant on alternative energy up from 2020 to 2013 or b) take back Sinai and be in control of our destiny energy-wise.

If we are to take back Sinai, the only questions are how and when? But one thing is certain, Israel would need to prepare itself for an onslaught of disapproval from the international community.




Update:  this article appeared in the Jerusalem Post on the same day I published this one.

“IEC can manage without Egyptian supplies for 2 weeks, new Israeli natural gas reserves can’t be utilized until at least 2013

“Gas exploration companies have announced two deep-water finds over the past two years in Israeli territorial waters totaling some 25 trillion cubic meters. While that amount dwarfs the quantity Egypt has contracted to sell Israel, gas is not expected to start flowing from one of those fields, Tamar, before 2013.”

“Landau’s spokesman said the goal was to have gas from Tamar flowing into Israel by 2013, adding that the Sinai explosion “just proves” the need to do so.”

” ‘We want energy independence and to achieve it as soon as possible,’ the spokesman said.’ “

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