Israel’s new offshore natural gas platforms can turn out to be an easy target for terrorist organizations and so according to Reuters, Israel’s navy, the IDF less frequently mentioned branch, will be seeing a boost in the range of its operations and in its future budgets.
Captain Ilan Lavi, head of the navy’s planning department, told Reuters: “We have to build an entire new defensive envelope. But you can’t have a defense system that costs more to build than the gas itself.”
The Tamar natural gas field, which became operational this week, is located 50 miles west of Haifa, in water that’s 5,600 ft. deep. It was the first large-scale hydrocarbon resource claimed by Israel.
The Leviathan gas field is a much larger field, located 8o miles west of Haifa, in water that’s 4,900 ft. deep. The discovery of that gas field has created the foundation for close collaboration between Israel, Cyprus and Greece.
Estimates are of close to a trillion cubic meters of gas underwater overall, with drilling costs coming to more than $2 billion. A defense system for the platforms (there will be as many as 20) will cost $700 million to build and $100 million to maintain each year, according to Lavi. “We can do it with less, but it means the system will be less adequate,” he said.
The fast patrol boats can reach the platform from Ashdod harbor in 40 minutes, carrying a squad of soldiers armed with M-16 rifles.
The Gaza Strip is at about an equal distance from there, and as the Reuters’ story notes, the same mid-range rockets that hit Tel Aviv last November could be trained on the drilling platforms.
Then there’s the Hezbollah in Lebanon, which sits on an estimated 50 thousand rockets, itching to be launched.
Oil platforms off Nigeria have been hit repeatedly, according to Reuters, and suicide bombers launched coordinated boat attacks on an Iraqi oil export terminal in 2004.
“These incidents illustrate that terrorist organizations have become aware of the potential damage that may be inflicted through attacks on the offshore oil and gas industry,” Assaf Harel, a legal adviser to Israel’s Military Advocate General’s Corps, wrote last year in a Harvard security journal.
The two Israeli gas platforms already employ private security teams, but the scope of their activity is obviously limited to the immediate area. And as the platforms start to be frequented by tankers, an entirely new kind of protection will be called for.
Using the Israeli navy will mean utilizing not just its swift boats, but the IDF intelligence and strategic capabilities as well. As Captain Lavi put it: “We have a response for every scenario.”