“You’re going to fall off your chair,” reporter Yossi Baum tweeted Monday night and continued: “It looks like the prophet’s vision of the end of times, but these are the facts: Israel is becoming a superpower. Our tiny country is becoming an extremely dominant and significant player vis-à-vis Europe, in a way that completely changes the rules of the game in the Middle East, including vis-à-vis the Palestinian Authority. This is unbelievable!”
Netanyahu’s visit to Italy this past weekend was intended to conclude a major deal for a $9 billion natural gas pipeline to be carried out by an American company with US funding. Also: in Berlin later this week, Netanyahu is reportedly going to sign a $3 billion arms sale to Germany. The deal was announced in September but was delayed because of the elections. Also: when Netanyahu hops to London next weekend, he is expected to seal another huge arms deal.
Needless to say, he had my attention.
Baum references the EastMed pipeline, a planned offshore/onshore natural gas pipeline directly connecting the energy resources off the shore of Israel to mainland Greece and from there to Europe. The initiative is conducted by the Gas Forum of the Eastern Mediterranean Basin, which was established by Israel, Italy, Greece, Cyprus, Jordan, Egypt, France, and the Palestinian Authority. The US, European Union, and Emirates have observer status in the forum. The EastMed initiative was signed in Israel in 2019, under the auspices of Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, but the change of governments in Israel and later the war in Ukraine led the Biden administration to announce at the beginning of 2022 that it was withdrawing its support from the initiative, due to “environmental considerations.”
What was that? one might have asked, the pipeline posed risk to some rare breed of crustation?
A few weeks after Biden’s brilliant move, Russia invaded Ukraine and proceeded to use its gas supply as leverage against Europe (which, by the way, Trump had warned about). Europe’s energy supply was in crisis and the new German Chancellor Olaf Scholz made a pilgrimage to Israel only days after taking office, to reach an agreement on the supply of energy from Israel to Europe.
Scholz wanted to run the pipeline through Turkey, and the Lapid government agreed, and sent President Itzhak Herzog and later Defense Minister Benny Gantz to seal the deal with President Erdoğan.
This move did not go down well with Turkey’s nemesis in the region, Greece and Cyprus, which is why President Nikos Christodoulides of Cyprus rushed to meet with Netanyahu immediately following the November 1 election and before he took over as Prime Minister to sign a deal that keeps Cyprus and Greece in the picture. Netanyahu consequently informed the Turks that Israel would consider letting them back into the deal only after they get rid of the Hamas presence in their country (it’s something Gantz was also trying to achieve but failed). At this point, after the series of devastating earthquakes Turkey has endured recently, it’s doubtful whether they are ready at this juncture to join the project.
Baum describes the magnitude of the deal, and I must admit, it is astonishing:
1. According to estimates, the pipeline should deliver more than 5 billion euros worth of Israeli natural gas annually to Europe over the next 15 years
2. According to Prof. Eytan Sheshinski, the Sir Isaac Wolfson Professor of Public Finance at Hebrew University, the annual benefits that will go to the state of Israel’s “wealth fund” from the deal should be around 60%, meaning an annual contribution to the fund of at least 3 billion euros ($3.21 billion)
3. Europe will do anything to obtain Israel’s natural gas. Judging by the current negotiations with Germany, Berlin is prepared to completely change course regarding the lavish aid it provides to the Palestinian Authority and anti-Israel “charity” associations.
4. Israeli natural gas reach all of Europe, including Norway, which is a major supplier of oil, gas, and electricity.
5. In addition to the gas pipeline, additional pipelines will be built along the same route, to transfer oil, electricity, and Internet fiber optic cable. These should connect to the pan-European system.
6. As a result, Israel is becoming a significant player in Europe, which now needs Israel more than the other way around. Baum suggests that, like Turkey and Germany, every European action regarding the Israeli-PA conflict, and every UN vote will be examined from now on in light of the new circumstances (in other words, help the PA construct illegal construction in Area C or get heat this winter).
OK, I admit some of the above looks more like wishful thinking than the Biblical prophetic vision of the end of times. Still, Israel could certainly use the wealth fund to improve education, transportation, and all the other vital components of modern society.
One final note: if you’ve been following the proceedings of MK Simcha Rothman’s Constitution, Law, and Justice committee, you noticed a permanent feature there, MK Karine Elharrar (Yesh Atid). For more than two weeks she has been heckling the chairman, interrupting speakers, and drenching every meeting with inane statements – without once proposing even a shred of an alternative to any part of the judicial reform legislation. Chairman Rothman has been reluctant to send her out of the committee room after three warnings, as he has done her fellow cantankerous opposition MKs because Elharrar is disabled and when she is expelled she reaps fantastic camera attention as she slowly maneuvers her wheelchair to the exit.
Back when Elharrar served as Minister of National Infrastructures, Energy, and Water Resources, she decided to stop the search for new underwater energy for a year. According to Baum’s report, her decision delivered the message to investors that Israel wants out of the drilling business and chased them off the pipeline project. As a result, Israel missed out on the opportunity to hit the European market just as the Russians were beginning to choke it; and it also forced it to sell natural gas to Egypt at a lower cost, as per the two countries’ agreement on natural gas that is not pipelined. Egypt then turned around and sold the same cheaper gas at market value to the freezing Europeans.
This, in addition to interim Prime Minister Yair Lapid’s unratified gas exploitation contract that relinquished Israeli territory to the Lebanese, combined to cost Israel billions in potential income.
Way to go, Yesh Atid.