Tuesday, 22 July 2014

The Fate of Palestine in the New Great Game for the Energy Resources of the Eastern Mediterranean.

'Israel's prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, has signalled that the offensive against Gaza will intensify still further. "The operation will be expanded until the goal is achieved," he said after a meeting of his security cabinet'
The goal of the Israeli military operation is said to be the destruction of Hamas's capacity to launch rockets from Gaza and to destroy the tunnels through which terror attacks are made possible. Yet the reality is that, in contrast to the 2008 conflict, Israel intendstotal victory in destroying Hamas militarily.

Hamas has been isolated by the impact of both the broadening out of the Syrian Conflict into a Sunni-Shia sectarian struggle in the course of 2012 and the Egyptian coup of 2013. Both have contributed to Gaza being cut off from supplies and finance and so desperate to shore up its flagging support base.

The Syrian Conflict fractured the unity of Hezbollah and Hamas in their joint struggle against Israel and led to Iranian funds for Hamas at first being slashed back in 2012. Even when Hamas courted Iran once more by not taking sides on Syria, supplies have not been able to get through.

The Egyptian Coup led to a government close to the Muslim Brotherhood being overthrown by General Sisi and the closure of tunnels into Gaza from the Egyptian side as Israel and Egypt have strengthened their security cooperation in trying to crush jihadist insurgents on the Sinai Peninsula.

The strengthened alliance between Egypt and Israel is crucially connected with the determination of Israel to exploit the gas reserves off the Gaza coast, the profits of which would benefit not only Israel but also the Palestinian Authority. By decisively destroying Hamas, the PA would have to negotiate on Israeli terms.

If the PA under Abbas refused to accept the destruction of Hamas, then the Palestinian elite would need to forget about having any share in Gaza's offshore gas wealth. The West Bank would continue to face economic problems and the region would miss out on their cut of the gas wealth provided through services.

Israel's discovery in 2010 of huge reserves of natural resources in the Eastern Mediterranean should last half a century. One reason Hamas has no backers and there has been no condemnation of the IDF operation is that EU ministers hope that Israeli gas could help diversify supply away from Russia.

The US and Britain follow the same position that 'Israel has the right to defend itself' from Hamas rocket attacks and to be indifferent to IDF incursions ( even if wary that the Palestinian deaths make 'public diplomacy' difficult ) because both US and UK energy corporations have an important stake in the gas.

The gas reserves off Gaza are worth $4bn and were developed by the BG Group ( formerly British Gas ). The Leviathan gas fields off Israel's coast are being tapped by an energy consortium including Israel’s Ratio and Derek Drilling and US-headquartered Noble Energy. 

Simon Henderson in one study wrote,
'There is little doubt that the discovery off Israel of the Tamar field (10 tcf) in 2009 and the Leviathan field (18 tcf) in 2010 changed perceptions in Jerusalem, making Israel more confident of the strength of its negotiating hand. In late 2011 and early 2012, there was renewed Israeli interest in devising a way to exploit the natural gas of Gaza Marine.
'The level of international diplomatic interest in the development of the field increased in 2013 with both the East Jerusalem-based Office of the Quartet Representative, led by former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry focusing attention on the positive aspects of Palestinian economic development. In October 2013, an unnamed Israeli official was quoted as saying that Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s government was “very supportive” of the project'.
Faced with an energy shortage and problems with disputes with Syria, Lebanon and Cyprus, it is said Israel's gas potential would not be ready before 2020. Even so, the EU is interested in seeing Eastern Mediterranean gas run from Israel via Cyprus, a "second Southern Corridor” to that running via Turkey.

One reason Turkey is the only regional power to openly condemn Israel's incursion into Gaza and to regard Hamas as an ally is it does not wish Israel's gas to run via Cyprus instead of through Turkey as Erdogan has a neo-Ottoman vision of his nation as the main east-west energy hub.

Qatar, likewise, had interests in backing Hamas because of its regional strategy of building a gas pipeline via Syria towards Turkey, one reason both powers are so keen to back Sunni jihadists against Assad the better to advance it against both Iran's rival plan for a pipeline via Syria and Israel's energy plans.

Hence Israel has gained from the Syrian Conflict and has no interest in taking any particular side in that struggle as neither the Turkey-Qatar plan, backed by the West, nor the Iranian 'axis of resistance', which has been backed by Russia's support for Assad, is in in its interest so long as it is yet to develop its gasfields.

The problem for the EU is that a deterioration of Israeli-Turkish relations would stall plans to export Israeli gas either via Turkey or even Cyprus and could leadTurkey to strengthen its cooperation with Russia, thus increasing Moscow's influence in the Black Sea region.

US diplomacy from John Kerry is going to centre around trying to broker a deal between Qatar and Turkey, allies in the struggle against Assad in Syria and his backer in Iran, and Israel and Egypt on the other. Egypt has sought Israeli gas to end its fuel crisis and restore economic stability and the security of the Sinai Peninsula.

With strengthened cooperation between Egypt and Israel to crush the jihadist insurgency in north east Egypt, the security of Israel's border with Gaza and of the Sinai pipeline. Two days ago militants blew up the Sinai pipeline. So destroying both the jihadists in Egypt and in Gaza is considered part of a joint security effort.

The naval blockade from 2007 positions the Israeli navy 65km from the Gazan coast because Hamas rockets have a range of only 50km. The gas reserves are 20km off the Gazan coast which makes the necessity to eliminate the rockets and the capacity to import or to make them through smuggling in the parts a geostrategic imperative.

A New Great Game is on across the Middle East for supplying energy to the EU which consumes 25% of the globe's gas supplies but produces only 2%. In this ruthless and pathological power political struggle, the Palestinians of Gaza are the ultimate losers because their struggle is merely a bargaining chip in a broader geopolitical contest.

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