Thinking Aloud: Pipeline to Peace?

Dec. 16, 2014 by Darius

Several years ago, major natural gas reserves were discovered off the coast of the Levant.  Israel has thus far been the only country with access to these reserves to exploit them in a major way.  Now, Israeli gas is being touted as a way to promote regional peace and economic cooperation.  In fact, the Obama administration has promoted gas agreements between Israel and its neighbors as a win-win for peace, economic growth, and energy security.  But is it?

Israeli gas already fuels half of Israel’s electricity, and it has signed, or is in the process of signing, agreements to export gas to Egypt, Jordan, and the Palestinian Authority.  The US, for its part, has served as a major cheerleader to these deals, providing money for training and other aid to grease the wheels of the Jordan agreement.

Pardon me for my cynicism, but in what way does Israel becoming a major energy supplier to Jordan, Palestine and Egypt promote cooperation any more than Russia supplying gas to Ukraine?  Sure, Israel might supply gas to these countries more cheaply than others.  But the same could be said of Russia and Ukraine.  Israel already withholds the tax revenues it collects on behalf of the Palestinian Authority every time the PA takes an action Israel disapproves of.  Why would we assume gas would not be just another lever for wielding power?  Even though the deal to distribute Israeli gas to Jordan and the PA technically goes via a private company, rather than the Israeli government, is it really hard to imagine Netanyahu’s (or perhaps soon Bennett’s) hand on the pipeline every time politics go sour?

Or, to continue my cynical train of thought, maybe the US just wants to further by market mechanisms what it has seen to by military means for decades: ensure Israel’s total dominance over its neighbors.

Egypt, Jordan, and the Palestinian Authority all need the gas Israel can supply.  However, a casual look at Russia’s willingness to threaten to turn off the gas to Ukraine, Belarus, Poland, et al. should give one pause about making your supplier a government you don’t actually like or trust.  As the US seeks to reduce its dependency on foreign oil because it doesn’t like the entanglements it creates, it is somewhat ironic that it is encouraging Arab governments to sign up for Israeli gas.

For more on Israel’s gas exports, see “Israel’s Gas Offers Lifeline for Peace,” The New York Times, December 15, 2014, p.B1, http://www.nytimes.com/2014/12/15/business/energy-environment/israels-natural-gas-supply-offers-lifeline-for-peace.html?_r=0.

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