PM Netanyahu was taken by surprise last week when three cabinet ministers, and in particular, the Minister of Economy and Trade Aryeh Deri (Shas) voted against the gas proposal that would have gotten Israel’s offshore gas program back on track.
After Israeli and foreign energy companies found tremendous amounts of offshore gas, investing some very large sums of money in the search for it, the Israeli government began reconsidering its relationship and financial terms with the energy companies.
This then led to a number of committees who examined the issues of taxation, monopolies, regulation and profit, as well as what Israel should do with both the gas and the financial windfall. It had the additional side effect of creating some very unhappy energy companies who didn’t appreciate the goalposts being moved mid-game.
With the decision to adopt the committees recommendations and compromises finally approaching, this instigated a series of populist and left-wing protests in Israel, as well as ministers afraid to stand up and do the right thing in the face of the protests and the media criticism.
The end result has been significant delays in the offshore gas getting into Israel, a billion dollars in lost potential revenue, and worst of all, damage to Israel’s credibility with the international energy companies.
It’s estimated there’s twice as much gas still undiscovered in Israel’s waters, and it will remain undiscovered and untapped if the energy companies decide that Israel is an unsafe business environment.
PM Netanyahu and Minister Yuval Steinitz have been looking around for allies to get the gas out of the ground, and MK Yair Lapid (Yesh Atid), despite sitting in the opposition, might just be the answer.
Lapid is interested in the gas deal moving forward. His primary concern is that their be oversight on the price for the Israeli consumer. If that can be resolved, he would probably support the gas proposal. Lapid understands how incredibly important it is to get the gas out of the ground.
According to Channel 2, Lapid has been quietly meeting with senior government ministers.
If Lapid decides that his party will support the proposal in the Knesset, he will go down in history as the man who saved Israel’s gas industry and credibility.