Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu today attended the final Knesset Economic Affairs Committee discussion of the natural gas plan. The committee will hold its concluding internal session on the matter next week. Netanyahu, who until today avoided specific comments about the issue, merely saying that he would "not give in to demagoguery," came to the meeting well briefed on the subject and determined not to allow anyone to interrupt him.
The main message that Netanyahu attempted to deliver was that the gas plan was important to Israel's security. Without the plan, he asserted, the gas fields would not be developed, and there would be no more drilling platforms. He said that damage to the only currently existing production platform in Israel would jeopardize Israel's energy security, and therefore also its existence.
Another message Netanyahu sought to deliver was that exporting gas was important to Israel's diplomatic and economic relations. "A country that exports things critical to the environment and to other countries has much more power. Alliances and peace are not made with the weak," the prime minister declared.
Before Netanyahu's appearance at the Economic Affairs Committee, activists from the Green Course environmental organization demonstrated in front of the prime minister's residence in Jerusalem, calling on him to halt the plan. The demonstrators called the plan "dangerous" and protested that Section 52 of the Restrictive Trade Practices Law, which allows the minister of the economy to circumvent the antitrust commissioner on the grounds of national security, was being invoked under a false pretext.
In response to the arguments by Economic Affairs Committee chairman Eitan Cabel (Zionist Union) that the gas plan was not a strategic matter of foreign and defense policy, because the stability of the regimes in the region did not depend on Israel's natural gas, Netanyahu said, "If the supply of gas is affected, the country will enter a crisis. Had we but a single power station, we would use all our means to protect it, because if you damage this link, you put the country into a crisis. You deny that our concerns are security and foreign relations. The opposite is true - we want to safeguard Israel's energy security. What does that mean? Every country depends on a regular supply of energy. Everyone here knows it. There are also consequences for our security systems. If our gas supply, which is becoming the main source for the production of power, is affected, our national security will suffer real damage.
"Ensuring the supply of gas is essential not only to the country's functioning, but also to its existence. Countries in the modern era cannot chop trees in the woods for energy. All of our operational systems depend on a supply of gas. I regard the gas supply as a foundation of national security."
Commenting on the security of the gas drilling platforms, Netanyahu remarked, "I have said before that we will not be able to develop the gas fields if we do not protect them. On November 17, 2013, we made a decision. What more do we need? What do I have to say to persuade you that this is the key to guaranteeing redundanc in the gas supply? There is no reason to think that big money can be made by justifying the unjustifiable. In 2013, the cabinet met and made a detailed and fateful decision to secure Israel's economic waters. We allocated a NIS 3 billion investment to create infrastructure and NIS 500 million more in the annual budget for defending Israel's economic waters. Economic waters are not fishing. They are not tuna. Securing the economic waters is how to secure the gas platforms. It was clear long before this discussion that the cabinet decided for the sake of national security to invest billions of shekels in active defense of the gas platforms." Netanyahu quoted incoming Mossad head Yossi Cohen, who two days ago said that during Operation Protective Edge there had been an attempt to attack the marine gas platform. Netanyahu today added, "The most vulnerable thing is the gas platforms. It is a target that can be hit with missiles… This plan is the only way to create redundancy of several fields, instead of being left with a single field."
Netanyahu also revealed a classified document of Col. Ori Cohen from the Intelligence Branch, in which he wrote, "Priority should be given to developing Leviathan… the basis for this statement includes real support for the stability of these regimes by providing a solution for energy instability, creating backup and redundancy in Israel's energy resources and transmission infrastructure, which currently constitutes a bottleneck, and improving the IDF's functioning in wartime." According to Netanyahu, the classified document was delivered in April 2015.
MK Yaakov Perry (Yesh Atid) asked Netanyahu, "Do you believe that invoking Article 52, which rests on three people, all of whom are subordinate to you, is proper?" Netanyahu answered, "The Attorney General is not subordinate to the prime minister, and he recommended adopting the plan. The Governor of the Bank of Israel is not subordinate to the prime minister, and she recommended adopting the plan, and I rely on my advisors. I did not interfere with the work of Prof. Eugene Kandel. I appointed him during the election campaign, I told him to go to work, and I did not say another word. Then the Minister of National Infrastructure, Energy, and Water Resources came in, and I did not interfere in this work, either.
"We live in a very difficult situation. This thing is important against the tide of extremist Islam… and strengthening our relations with the countries in the region in order to promote coexistence and peace. We are talking about exporting gas to or by way of these countries. We want to export to Greece, Cyprus, and Egypt. Next month, I will meet with the Cypriot president and the Greek prime minister." The prime minister addressed the tangle with Egypt, a potential gas customer which has been found liable to pay Israel huge compensation for breaching its agreement when it was a gas supplier. "About Egypt, we have been talking with them for a long time, to say the least. Yesterday, I agreed with the Egyptian government that I would send a special envoy for talks to find a solution, in view of the strategic interests shared by the two sides. This is a very big interest. These interests will shape the situation," Netanyhau said.
About Turkey, Netanyahu said, "My personal representative is in touch with a senior representative of the Turkish government, and the possibility of exporting Israeli gas to Turkey was raised. The interests are clear and wide-ranging. All the interest in us and the joint interests vanish if we do not export. Exports are a major and important element in safeguarding the country's interests in its foreign relations in general." Concerning the laying of another pipeline, Netanyahu explained, "I have ordered that alternatives be considered." In answer to a question from MK Shelly Yachimovich (Zionist Union) why the gas plan did not require the laying of another pipeline in case the option of exporting to Egypt does not materalize, Netanyahu added, "I ordered the Minister of National Infrastructure, Energy, and Water Resources to consider alternatives to the construction of another pipeline from the Tamar reservoir."
On the gas plan itself, Netanyahu said, "The world is not a perfect place. The agreement is optimal, but not ideal. Leaders have to made realistic decisions for the public good, which requires the development of additional fields and the flow of gas with redundancy and competition. If we do not accept the gas plan, we will be left with no competition, no gas fields, no energy security, and no ability to export. There are three possibilities: undertaking a legal procedure that will leave a single player, which it is unsure whether we will win, and which will suspend development of the gas fields; a supervised monopoly - but I have seen that when you supervise prices, the prices go up, and it does not bring investment; and the agreed plan, which will lead to development of the Leviathan reserve and the sale of Karish and Tanin, and will bring new players in. This is better than the other options. If we are talking about competition and diversification, this is the only plan worth considering."
Published by Globes [online], Israel business news - www.globes-online.com - on December 8, 2015
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