Thursday, 5 February 2015

The Singapore of the Eastern Mediterranean: Israel, Gaza and the Great Gas Game

"A free, neutralized democratic Gaza has the potential to turn into a Singapore of the Middle East. Being small and compact allows easy development of infrastructure. A free trade area removed from the conflict could assume the role once held by Beirut. "-Martin Gouterman, New York Times, 1987

"I am never going to be part of the super-rich. The purpose of this is not to make money, it's to make a difference."-Tony Blair, Middle Eastern Peace Envoy.

"A fourth operation in the Gaza Strip is inevitable, just as a third Lebanon war is inevitable”-Israeli Foreign Minister Avignor Lieberman, Ynet 2015

The Israeli-Jordan Deal over Gaza Marine.

In the first few days of 2015, Bloomberg business news reported that Jordan would import from Israel 1.5-1.8 BCM of gas annually from a field 35km off the coast of the Gaza Strip. No mention was made of the fact the gas that would supply Jordan actually lies in Palestinian territorial waters

Bloomberg is the New York based media channel on which the UN Peace Envoy Tony Blair appears from time to time when he gives 'keynote addresses' at their European Headquarters in London on the need to tackle religious extremism and bring about peace and prosperity to the Middle East.

It is rather hard to see how an energy deal with Jordan made by Israel, in which the Palestinian Authorities have a 10% ownership stake in Gaza Marine gas, according to a deal itself brokered by Blair and the BG Group, would bring about peace between Israel and the Palestinians of Gaza.

However, the point about the Israel-Jordan gas deal is that peace is not the primary concern. On the contrary, the aim of the Third Gaza War in 2014 was what Israeli PM Netanyahu called 'sustainable quiet' for Israel free from the largely ineffectual rocket attacks of Hamas which killed 7 civilians.

The blockade of Gaza from air, land and sea has as much to do with Israel's national security as with now shoring up the regional security architecture of the south-eastern corner of the Mediterranean through providing both Egypt and Jordan with relatively cheaply piped Palestinian gas.

It's hardly surprising that reports of news of the previous Israeli gas deal, which would have supplied Jordan in future with gas from the Israeli Leviathan field had been halted, came shortly before it was quietly announced by Bloomberg that it would come from Gaza instead of Leviathan.

Importing gas from Gaza Marine could mean the Jordan was effectively colluding in Israel's war to smash and subdue Hamas and to use the gas without guarantee of the financial proceeds going to reconstruct Gaza after the huge amount of damage caused by the Israeli bombardment.

Israel and Egypt-Restoring the Security of the Eastern Mediterranean.

The plan for imposing stability through force and subterfuge was outlined in Foreign Affairs journal by Tareq Baconi. His article, A Pipeline Against Peace: Israel's Recent Gas Deals May Exacerbate Tensions in the Middle East, is a comprehensive rebuttal to the energy policy as advocated by Blair.

The arguments he made were mostly based on facts well known. Israel suffered a threat to its energy supply when President Morsi's Muslim Brotherhood backed government decided to cut off Egypt's supply of gas in 2012 because of hostility to Israel as well as the fact it was needed for domestic uses.

For a long time under Mubarak's dictatorship, Egyptian gas had been sold to Israel for under the market price, something that was a major grievance of the protesters in Cairo during the Arab Spring of 2011 and an opportunity for Qatar and Turkey to back Sunni democratic forces there and in Gaza.

However, the Egyptian coup-and the restoration of what Blair called 'stability' by General Sisi in the summer of 2013-provided the opportunity for Israel to build up its rival strategy for shared military and energy cooperation in the Eastern Mediterranean by signing deals to pipe Israeli gas to Egypt.

This rapid reversal of roles between energy supplier and customer was hastened by declining Egyptian gas reserves and Israel's discovery of the gas of the Tamar gas field in 2009 and the Leviathan in 2010 which came just as existing domestic Israeli gas reserves were depleting.

With continued problems over tapping the gas of the Leviathan gas field, it would seem Gaza Marine gas would offer a lucrative chance of selling the gas to Jordan for a price higher than it would have fetched in Israel after years of Israel demanding Palestine sell its gas at 1/2 to 1/3 of the market price.

These Israeli demands preceded the coming to power of Hamas in 2006. One obstacle to a gas pipeline from Gaza Marine previously had been the threat of Hamas attacking it but it would appear this security threat provided Israel with the pretext to cut off Gaza from benefiting from the gas.

The Role of Tony Blair-Closing the Deal, Making a Killing.

In 2007 the BG deal was put firmly back on the agenda following doubts about security by Blair on stepping down as British PM and being appointed UN Special Envoy. Operation Cast Lead followed in 2008 (the First Gaza War) followed by a Second Gaza War in September 2012.

By the time of Operation Pillar of Defence two 'game changing' factors had come into play. Firstly, in 2011 Israel had developed the Iron Dome missile system to take out Hamas rockets. Secondly, Morsi had cut off Israel's gas and during the summer there were rolling power black outs throughout Israel.

Blair gave a distinctly cool welcome to the overthrow of Mubarrak in 2011. In each of his TV appearances on the BBC or Sky News he emphasised the prime need for 'stability' and how events in Cairo have to be seen not just in the light of Egypt but of the wider region ( meaning Israel ).

The 2011 uprisings in the Arab world came as a surprise to Blair who was already emitting noises that 'time is short' with regards finding a peace deal in the Middle East. In 2014, Blair on CNN claimed 'time was running out' as Israel started its bombardment of the beleaguered Gaza once more.

Apart from the Iron Dome system, the other 'game changer', the coup in Egypt, was supported by Blair as part of his idea of 'promoting democracy' and stability. Writing after the coup as the army started gunning protesters down in Cairo, Blair claimed 'Our interests demand that we are engaged.'

By 'our interests', Blair is using public diplomacy-speak to mean the EU, the Egyptian deep state and, of course, very importantly himself and his client Israel. Travelling about as peace envoy by private plane and staying in luxury hotels in the cause of 'stability' had by January 2015 cost £57 million.

One accountant who worked out his expenses reasoned that "If he has 37 staff and a wage bill of £2.7m then that leaves £10m on other expenses. That is an awful lot of travel. It is a huge sum of money. The expenses are incredible.". However, there is no doubt Blair is worth the investment.

As Blair stated after the coup 'We are in a long haul transition in the Middle East. It is difficult, time-consuming and expensive.' Of course, by 'interests' Blair means, for one, the secure economic development of the Israeli gas reserves,including those lying in Palestinian maritime waters off Gaza.

Blair's drumming up of support for BG and Israel's role in Gaza Marine, and his readiness to facilitate the unfortunate sacrifice of civilians in Gaza as means to pacify and contain the threat Hamas poses to the exploitation of the gas, is reminiscent of the realpolitik of Henry Kissinger.

Kissinger is a now a model for Blair's career. Tony Blair Associates is clearly based on Kissinger's business set up and his way of offering his services as an effective behind-the-scenes operator, a consultant who can clinch business deals and advance strategic resource interests simultaneously.

Far from Blair's politics being far removed from President Nixon's national security adviser, Blair would admire someone who made 'peace with honour 'in Vietnam in the 70s by operating without the explicit endorsement of political institutions and without public accountability. Only results matter.

Blair's 'solving' of the Middle East peace problem in Israel and Palestine is part of the jigsaw whereby the entire region could be pacified should Blair deliver stability through getting the hydrocarbon wealth on stream. The trickledown of the wealth would in the long run mollify the Palestinians.

In Blair's worldview, 'the people' crave consumerism and happiness; they are bound to forget historical animosities and the victims of history once stability reigns. For Blair it is always 'time to move on' just as it was back in 1997 when he acted as a peacemaker in Northern Ireland.

So Israel in 2015 is in a position where Gaza Marine, its fate decided on already by Israel as necessary for sale to Jordan and to the Israeli market if needed, could be tapped and piped. Deals are being done behind closed doors. A final war to subdue Hamas further could be on the horizon.

Indeed, at the Universal Oil & Gas 2014 Conference held in Israel's Dead Sea Resort, Ariel Ezrahi, an 'energy infrastructure adviser at the Office of the Quartet Representative Tony Blair' hinted that something was in the pipeline as part of a greater game plan for Gaza Marine,
'This field has not yet been developed… but I'm hoping that in the coming weeks and months we'll see some significant changes here.....There is a lot of room for cooperation in the energy sphere between Palestinian actors and Israel and other regional counterparts. I think it's a very exciting time and that the energy hopefully can be used as a lever to overcome some of the political constraints because it would be in everyone's interest".
Despite token reference to energy markets in the Palestinian territories and the fact gas could be used to power Gaza's single power station, which actually was blown up during Operation Protective Edge, the general gist of Ezrahi's speech was that Gaza gas would be used for Israel's security agenda

Blair's grand design as a 'peace' diplomat is little different to that when he was in Downing Street. Just as the Iraq War was a war was about securing Iraq's unused oil reserve capacity and making them work for the good of Iraqis and the rest of the world, so too could Gaza Marine do the same.

For Blair both secular dictatorships and 'extreme' Islamism of the wrong sort are two sides of the same totalitarian coin. As he spelt out in his autobiography 'Journey', both as 'forces of reaction' have no place in what is happening as an inevitable long term historical process-it's 'modernisation'.

For Blair, History is on Israel's side as a bulwark of stability and a bastion of democracy in a region in which there is a cosmic battle between those who accept capitalism, globalisation and the wealth that provides for people of all races and faiths and those losers who do not and embrace jihadism.

The appeal of this way of 'framing' the conflicts of the Middle East is that it offers a way out for Blair over Iraq. It was religious sectarian-based militias which wrecked his plan to be the heroic liberating victor in Iraq after Saddam Hussein was overthrown. Consequently,they must be confined to the past.

Democracy is not so important for Blair if it does not create 'stability'. More important is good 'governance'. Blair tends to view all of his enemies as 'extremists', whether Trotskyists trying to enter the Labour party in the 1980s, Hamas in Gaza or those accusing him of being a war criminal for Iraq.

Cosseted by an ideology, behind which he can advance himself and advocate the geopolitical interests of those historical forces which advance an all embracing idea of 'stability', Blair is able to muster up all his powers of narcissistic self 'belief' to justify whatever cause he 'believes' will 'work'.

There is nothing surprising about either Blair's uncritical support for Israel and its regional strategy in the Eastern Mediterranean any more than his decision to back the catastrophic Iraq War of 2003: both are in complete continuity with Blair's longer term career trajectory from the 1990s as 'New Labour'.

A model state for Blair in that sense in Singapore, a multicultural city state he was very impressed with in the 1996 for its authoritarian governance but a free market. It was Singapore which was once said to be a model too for Gaza, not least once its offshore gas reserves were discovered in 1999.

Across the Middle East, the Gulf States from Qatar to UAE offer a vision of globalisation with their hydrocarbons and sovereign wealth funds that is on offer for Gaza should they reject Hamas. If not, it is up to Israel to enforce peace through compelling wars on Hamas that Gaza cannot win.

The Maritime Iron Dome as Decisive Game Changer.

The Iron Dome missile system which protected Israeli cities and towns also in the 2014 war has been accompanied by the development of a cutting edge naval version of the same technology. In November 2014 Israel's state owned Rafael unveiled at a Paris exhibition their "C-Dome".

At the exhibition a reserve Israeli Navy Captain "Meir", a Rafael business development director for naval warfare systems, was candid about the fact these missile systems would be used to 'secure and protect national economic resources at sea like oil and gas platforms'.
"The most strategic sites for the future right now will be gas platforms and oil platforms. You have to secure them from missiles; Missiles that will be from terror organizations, from mother boats, from enemy countries, from drones — or any other aerial threat". 
Sealed off from the outside world by a blockade and with Hezbollah to the north of Israel caught up in the Syrian war in a bloody clash between Sunni militants and Shi'ites backed by Iran, Hamas would appear to have been substantially crushed and Gazans punished for having voted for them.

So Israel has little need to fear the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions initiative against it are going to get very far. With Hamas reduced to impotent irrelevance and Egypt supplied with Cypriot gas by 2017-and Israeli gas before the end of the decade-a new Mediterranean energy network is emerging.

In December 2014 Israel and Cyprus attempted to get EU funds for a proposed pipeline between them and Greece from which Eastern Mediterranean gas could reach other European markets. This would provide an important source of energy diversification away from Russia and unstable Ukraine.

When added to the impunity Israel gains from being the only nuclear power in the Middle East it would also be in a position to ensure the energy security of Egypt and Jordan as well as enhancing it for other Mediterranean states and members of the EU such as Italy as Libyan gas supplies drop.

Baconi rightly emphasises that an Israeli pipeline from Gaza Marine to Israel and the West Bank and to Jordan 'undermines their national interests for ostensible stability' and so would not bring about the sort of peace that Blair has advocated as one based on developing Gaza Marine's gas wealth.

However, Israel can afford to be completely and supremely indifferent because all the economic and political cards are stacked in its favour. Unless Hamas demilitarises it would not get anything for Gaza from the exploitation of their gas and, if it does not, they are contained anyway.

In fact, Hamas's failed and futile strategy actually benefits Israel. It means it does not need to take the Palestinians of Gaza into consideration at all because Hamas is a terrorist group which, in firing rockets, shows an intention to kill. It means sharing any gas wealth with them is out of the question.

Israel can use Palestinian gas to prop up General Sisi in Egypt as he goes about crushing domestic discontent while offering economic and political 'stability'. His job is securing the border with Israel and Gaza against the jihadi insurgency that is raging in Sinai and threatened pipeline infrastructure.

While that war continues as part of a general Israeli supported 'war on terror', with ISIS and Hamas being as one in Netanyahu's 'public diplomacy, the British BG group, which owns 60% of Gaza Marine, stands to gain as, of course, does Tony Blair as an adviser to Sisi and advocate of BG.

So ultimately Blair is actually doing a "good job" as far as the great gas game goes in the Eastern Mediterranean. In the world of 'public diplomacy' then 'peace' in the longer term comes from the war to secure the gas, though it cannot be stated that way. It is portrayed only as defence against Hamas.

No doubt Hamas' tactics and strategy have, as part of it, the intent of trying to kill Israeli civilians so as to remain a force that needs to be negotiated with and which has cards on the table to play. But the Iron Dome missile defence strategy has made that largely obsolete and plainly suicidal.

In this broader struggle, a toxic mixture of geopolitics, self interest, cynicism, greed for hydrocarbons and energy, Hamas is part of the equation. For its tactics objectively serve to worsen the situation in Gaza by giving Israel the pretext and rationale to act as ruthlessly as it needs to secure Gaza's gas.

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