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The plan for Israel to supply natural gas to Europe

Israel seems to be in a big hurry to flush out all Palestinians in the Gaza Strip to the Sinai Desert in Egypt because there is the economic dimension of the Greater Israel project.

Jamari Mohtar
6 minute read

Way back in 1948 when Israel was created through the blood of Palestinian civilians via massacres and forced evictions from their homeland – the Nakbah – Israel already had a plan for a Greatest Israel which stretched to some parts of present-day Egypt, Jordan and Syria.  

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu himself showed this map – not of a Greatest Israel but a Greater Israel – to the United Nations just before the Gaza war began on Oct 7.

The difference between Greater Israel and Greatest Israel is that the former consists of Israel with Gaza and the West Bank as part of its territory, while the latter which has never been shown to the world includes part of Egypt up to the Nile River, and parts of Jordan, Syria and Iraq up to the Euphrates River.

After the 1967 war, Israel annexed Gaza and the West Bank, bringing closer its goal of a Greater Israel. But it is frustrated that after more than five decades, the annexation is only in theory because the world has rejected it and instead called it an occupation – hence Gaza and the West Bank are occupied territories. 

Had the world agreed to the annexation, the Zionist state would not have hesitated over the massacre and forced exile of the Palestinians with impunity in a relatively shorter time than five decades.

So it changed its strategy by making life very difficult for the Palestinians in the occupied territories by creating illegal Jewish settlements there – the blatant forced eviction of Palestinians from their homes that in due course would be occupied by Jewish settler – and the wanton desecration of their holy place, the Al-Aqsa Mosque.

The aim was that with the very difficult life Israel had created for the Palestinians, the latter would voluntarily force themselves to exile en masse to other places.

But Israel misjudged the natural, innate nature of humans’ longing and attachment to the place of their birth, a place they call home. Palestinians, being human, are no exception.

According to Israel’s leaked intelligence report, dated Oct 13, 2023, Israel proposes to forcibly transfer Gaza’s 2.3 million residents to Egypt's Sinai Peninsula (known as Option C in the report).

The 10-page report rejects two additional alternatives as insufficient to protect Israel's security interests: allowing the Palestinian Authority to rule Gaza (Option A), and allowing a new local government to develop there (Option B). Option C favoured by the report was widely described as tantamount to ethnic cleansing. 

The paper also states that many residents in Gaza have asked to leave Gaza and suggests a campaign promoting the plan to the residents with slogans such as "Allah made sure that you lost this land because of the leadership of Hamas – there is no choice but to move to another place with the help of your Muslim brothers." 

The paper also suggests that Egypt, Turkey, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, or the UAE could support the plan financially, or by taking in Palestinian refugees as citizens. Canada is also identified as a possible resettlement location for refugees due to its "lenient" immigration practices. 

It also states that Egypt would be obligated by international law to allow the population transfer and suggests the US should pressure Egypt and other countries into accepting refugees. 

The paper acknowledges that this proposal "is liable to be complicated in terms of international legitimacy," adding that "in our assessment, fighting after the population is evacuated would lead to fewer civilian casualties compared to what could be expected if the population were to remain".

Netanyahu downplayed the report, calling it a hypothetical "concept paper", but this only worsened Israeli-Egyptian tensions and drew condemnation from Palestinians, for whom it revived memories of the Nakba. 

And this time around, Israel seems to be in a big hurry to flush out all Palestinians in the Gaza Strip to the Sinai Desert in Egypt because there is the economic dimension of the Greater Israel project.

This has to do with Israel setting itself up to become a major exporter of gas and oil, if "all goes according to plan".

In 1999 British Gas (BG) discovered oil and natural gas deposits in Gaza. While Israel claims them as its very own treasure trove, only a fraction of the sea’s wealth lies in Israel’s bailiwick as maps. Much is still unexplored, but currently Palestine’s Gaza and the West Bank between them show the greatest discoveries.

Hence, the ultimate objective is then not only to exclude Palestinians from their homeland, but also confiscating the multi-billion dollar Gaza offshore natural gas reserves, namely those pertaining to the BG Group in 1999, as well the Levant discoveries of 2010. 

According to a UN report in 2019 titled "The Economic Costs of the Israeli Occupation for the Palestinian People: The Unrealized Oil and Natural Gas Potential", oil and natural gas deposits can be stored at zero cost for decades, centuries and even millenniums. 

Typically, their economically optimal exploitation depends, in part, on whether the interest rate exceeds the expected price increase.

So a pertinent question to be asked is why the current war in Gaza seems to be an opportune time to flush out the Palestinians when the gas and oil deposits can be stored at zero cost and extracted at later dates. 

This is where the Ukraine war with its concomitant shock and awe sanctions against Russia come into the picture.

The US actually realised early on that the imposition of sanctions on Russian oil and gas will have a detrimental effect on the EU nation especially Germany.

But knowing about the existence of the giant Leviathan natural gas field in the eastern Mediterranean and the multi-billion dollar Gaza offshore natural gas reserves, the US and the UK pressured Israel to be the supplier of natural gas to the EU in order to cut the latter’s dependence on Russia.

In May 2022, three months into the Ukraine war, Israel began the process of launching a fourth exploration for natural gas in its territorial waters.

Then Israel’s Energy Minister Karin Elharrar said the decision was in response to a growing energy crisis in Europe, despite earlier plans to halt all searches for natural gas in Israel in 2022 in order to focus on renewable energies, as announced by Elharrar in December 2021.

"The state of Israel is pitching in and helping Europe diversify its energy sources," the minister said at a press conference, as quoted by the Post.

"The global energy crisis provides an opportunity for the state of Israel to export natural gas, along with the honest and real concern for what is going on in Europe."

But then there was a hitch in the plan to make Israel supplanted Russia as EU’s supplier of natural gas. 

A battle over Mediterranean waters rich in natural gas deposits bubbled up on June 5 last year with the scheduled arrival of a floating production storage and offloading vessel of Energean on the maritime border between Israel and Lebanon.

The London-based upstream firm Energean plans to start pumping gas from the Karish field under contract with the Israeli government in late 2022.

However, the arrival of the vessel was met with anger in Lebanon, with both Lebanese politicians and citizens denouncing the move and threatening any activity in the area would be considered a "provocation" and an "act of aggression".

Lebanese President Michel Aoun warned Israel that trying to tap the offshore riches without first resolving a territorial dispute would be seen as a "provocation".

Lebanon’s Hezbollah has threatened to take action if Israel extracts fossil fuels in the disputed area without resolving the territorial impasse.

Israel media reported the military is readying for a possible attack by Hezbollah on the Energean gas rig. Israeli navy vessels will help secure the drilling platform.
A naval version of Israel’s Iron Dome missile defence systems, along with submarines, will reportedly protect the rig.

In the end the imminent war between Israel and Hezbollah didn’t occur but the plan to make Israel supplanting Russia as Europe’s supplier of oil and gas was dropped.

And then in December 2022, Netanyahu came along becoming the prime minister of Israel for the sixth time. And he offered the US and the UK a revival of the plan to make Israel the supplier of oil and gas to Europe, this time complete with the timeline of early 2024 to achieve that objective.

The US and UK accepted this timeline with open arms, as the situation is getting bad for them, and continue to get worse now.  

This is the casus belli for Israel’s declaration of war on Hamas.

Jamari Mohtar is editor of Let’s Talk!, an e-newsletter on current affairs.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the position of MalaysiaNow.