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Netanyahu tells Knesset that controversial gas plan is crucial to security

Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gave testimony to a Knesset committee yesterday in defence of a controversial arrangement which will regulate Israel’s nascent natural gas industry.

The Leviathan and Tamar off-shore natural gas fields are thought to contain around 800 billion cubic metres in gas, enough to supply the Israeli market for a century. Israeli company Delek Drilling and American firm Noble Energy hold controlling stakes in both fields and have been largely responsible for their development so far. A deal has already been agreed to supply significant quantities of gas to Jordan, with others in the pipeline.

However, in December 2014, Israel’s Antitrust Regulator, David Gilo recommended ending the dominance of Noble and Delek, accusing them of constituting a monopoly. Eventually, the government came to an agreement which will see Delek and Noble relinquish some holdings in Tamar and two smaller fields. The arrangement also regulates the industry in general, including the share of profits. Regular public protests have taken place lately, accusing the government of bowing to corporate greed.

Netanyahu was giving evidence to the influential Knesset Economics Committee in his capacity as Economy Minister. He told them that, “Ensuring the supply of gas is essential not only to the country’s functioning, but also to its existence … All of our operational systems depend on a supply of gas. I regard the gas supply as a foundation of national security.” Netanyahu added that developing natural gas would boost Israel’s international standing and diplomatic leverage, saying, “A country that exports things that are crucial for the surroundings or for other countries has far more power… The ability to export gas makes us more immune to international pressure. We don’t want to be vulnerable to boycotts.”

However, Zionist Union head and opposition leader Isaac Herzog told Netanyahu “on the gas issue the government’s conduct under your leadership is amateurish.” He added, “I don’t understand how your entire speech is related to the energy economy and the consumer price.”