Thursday, 21 August 2014

The Gaza-Israel War, Energy Interests and the Potential Defeat of Hamas.

On August 20 2014 the war between Hamas in Gaza and Israel resumed after the ceasefire broke down. Three Hamas leaders were killed and the wife and child of Hamas' leader, Mohammed Deif. Rockets were being fired once more from out of the Gaza Strip.

The ceasefire talks broke down as an effective state of war exists. Hamas would not agree to demilitarise and Israel would not lift the blockade unless they did or unless the ending of the armed struggle could be arranged. Hamas negotiators made plain realising this Israeli demand was 'inconceivable'

With the war in Northern Iraq against the Islamic State going on since the ceasefire was tabled, the main global powers attention was focused elsewhere. Should hostilities develop into the same level of war seen previous to the ceasefire, powers such as Britain would need to make good promises to halt certain arms exports.

The reluctance of the British government to criticise Israel for its 'disproportionate' military response are said to be to do with different factors: the power of the Israeli lobby, the profits to be made from the sort of deals which created £185m worth of military exports to Israel in the period 2008-12 and the US backing for Israel.

However, government divisions, with the Liberal Democrats criticising Israel and Warsi resigning because of its “indefensible” policy on Gaza, are based not only on conscience or the need to be seen to be doing the right thing. There are divisions over Britain's foreign policy as it related to energy interests.

The fate of Gaza Marine gas is central to understanding why a conflict dating back 60 years has become more intractable and why the international powers,-the US, Russia and the EU-and regional powers have not been able to come together and mediate effectively.

On the whole, the EU and European states have aligned with Israel because it would seek to benefit from Eastern Mediterranean gas. Just as the reaction to General Sisi's coup in 2013 in Egypt was criticised as part of the "turbulence" by Foreign Secretary William Hague, so too Israel could feel it could deal a deadly blow to Hamas.

What links events in Egypt with Israel is the fact the BG Group, an offshoot of British gas, has the licence to drill for gas in both offshore fields off Egypt and Gaza. Britain has clear commercial interests in the eastern Mediterranean as well as an interest in preserving 'stability', one reason why peace envoy Blair supported Sisi.

With Russia vying for a stake in exploiting the Gaza Marine gas, the EU and US would prefer Israel to be in charge of exploiting the gas, so that it could help the EU reduce dependence upon Russia through importing gas via Cyprus. The PA has been trying to strike deals with Gazprom as part of its diplomacy to get a better deal with Israel.

The US would oppose than but especially the EU. A European Parliament report in April made this clear,
“Global actors are ready to exploit the Eastern Mediterranean [gas field’s] strategic implications....Russia aims to safeguard its gas monopoly, the United States to support its business interest, and Europe to increase its energy security and reduced dependence on Russia in light of the Crimea crisis.”
The report states, that the EU should “back the strategic triangle of Israel, Cyprus and Turkey as a first step towards the construction of an Eastern Mediterranean energy corridor.”. The reason for the empty rhetoric about Israel is not primarily about arms trade profits but about the EU's energy situation.

The only ally Hamas has is Qatar but Qatar is also an ally of the West as it supplies large amounts of liquefied natural gas to Europe. Michael Stevens, a security analyst, asserts, “Qatar is basically Hamas’s last ally. Given that Turkey is struggling and failing to insert itself into the process, Doha really is the only game in town.”

Qatar's regional strategy of supporting Sunni militants in Gaza and Syria is in disarray, however. IS's rise has effectively displaced the Free Syria Army as the main force in northern Syria and the Alawite Shia leader Assad is far stronger than in 2013, with the West also interested in engaging with its backer Iran to defeat IS.

Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu has realised Hamas's weakness as a consequence of Iran no longer supporting it with the conflict in Syria after 2011 opening up sectarian divisions between Shi'te Hizbollah in Southern Lebanon and Hamas as a Sunni militant offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood. 

With Egypt firmly back onside with Israel after the ousting of the Muslim Brotherhood backed President Morsi and the recent banning of the Muslim Brotherhood, Israel is in a position to dictate terms and insist that the demilitarisation of Gaza would happen with or without the 'international community' .

Israel and Hamas are locked into a 'war of attrition' in which Hamas could not win and only the Palestinians lose because there is no way in which the Palestinian Authority could benefit from the gas without Israel's approval and that would not be granted as Hamas is an officially designated 'terrorist organisation'.

So long as Hamas remains some form of geopolitical asset for Qatar as a means to prevent Israel developing its full regional energy potential in the Eastern Mediterranean, Qatar has interests in being a supporter of Gaza through investment and infrastructure projects. But this value is rapidly diminishing.

The attempts by Hamas to fire rockets into Israel are achieving nothing but Israeli air strikes in return. One threat that remains is not to the Israeli population, largely protected by Israeli early warning systems and the Iron Dome defence, but is one directed towards Israeli gas rigs in the largely depleted Noa gas field

On August 21th the Haaretz newspaper reported a rocket attack, the 'first of its kind' on gas rigs in the largely depleted Noa gas field 30 km northwest of the Gaza Strip in Yam Tethys. Security in the Gaza Marine fields closer to the Gazan coast might not be so easy to maintain should those reserves be tapped. 

As a consequence where there is a chance Hamas could be eliminated as a military force, Israel would be willing to take the opportunity to do so.

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