Middle East

British Gas and Israel eyeing Gaza's natural gas reserves

Mohannad El-Khairy

The massacre in Gaza accomplished nothing more than a death toll of over 1,000 dead and 5,000 wounded Palestinians. World leaders scrambled like headless chickens to find ways to achieve a ceasefire, instead of stripping Israel from its membership at the UN and declaring it an outlaw state, and news media around the world carried daily coverage of the carnage, inviting “experts in the field” from both the Palestinian and Israeli perspectives. Yet not a single network exposed the other motive behind Israel’s attacks: Gaza’s natural gas reserves.

The current societal framework is in fact manufactured in a way that seldom enables the people to be empowered with information. Only when the exciting stuff emerges on television does everyone’s attention become so dedicated to the tube. In modern history however, wars are usually preceded by the eerie smells of reticent business deals gone bad. Quiet arrangements made by a corprotocracy that the masses are usually unaware of.

According to British Gas Group (BG), in 2000 an estimated 40 billion cubic-meters of natural gas were discovered off the Gaza coast, stretching north-west of the Strip. By any way one measures it, these reserves legally belong to Palestine as they are directly located off the shore of the Gaza Strip, an illegally occupied territory by Israeli forces. A 25-year exploration-rights deal ensued with BG and the Consolidated Contractor International Company as partners of the Palestinian Authority in a respective 60-30-10 percentage revenue split. The Middle East Economic Digest reported on January 5, 2001, that this agreement also includes field development and the construction of a gas pipeline.

The BG group thus began drilling two wells named Gaza Marine 1 and Gaza Marine 2.

Where does this leave the state of Israel? As per its very existence and usual state-run policies based on theft and dispossession, the election of Ariel Sharon in 2001 propounded nothing different. At the Israeli Supreme Court he stated that “Israel would never buy gas from Palestine” and in 2003 vetoed a deal that would enable BG to supply Israel with natural gas from the Gaza wells. For the Israelis, the very definition of to whom the natural gas belonged was still not understood nor accepted.

Hamas’ election victory in January 2006 and Israel’s refusal to buy gas from the Palestinians complicated matters for BG. Thus, they decided to sell natural gas to the Egyptians. And once again, Israel cried fowl. According to reports, then-British Premier Tony Blair had to even intervene on behalf of Israel in order to cancel the agreement with Egypt.

Global Research, an independent research and media group based in Canada, states: “The following year, in May 2007, the Israeli Cabinet approved a proposal by Premier Ehud Olmert to buy gas from the Palestinian Authority (PA). The proposed contract was for $4 billion, with profits of the order of $2 billion, of which 1 billion was to go to the Palestinians. Tel Aviv, however, had no intention of sharing the revenues with Palestine. An Israeli team of negotiators was set up by the Cabinet to thrash out a deal with the BG Group, bypassing both the Hamas government and the PA.”

With Fatah’s power loss to Hamas in the Gaza Strip, Israel’s connivance had to be resolved by eventually partnering up with the PA. A few months later, in July 2007, the Jerusalem Post affirmed that “10 percent of the revenue, estimated to be worth hundreds of millions of dollars a year, is to be designated for the PA’s Palestinian Investment Fund, under the auspices of the office of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.” The Israelis could not accept any form of revenue trickling into the pockets of the elected Hamas government even though Bloomberg reported that Hamas had “no problem cooperating with the British gas company but only after modifying some points of the 1999 contract.”

On January 14, 2008, BG pulled out of the deal – and in fact closed its offices in Tel Aviv. The Middle East Economic Survey quotes Michael Barron, corporate affairs manager of the Gaza Marine Project at BG, as saying: “As part of ending our business presence here, we are also relinquishing the Ashkelon exploration license. But we will retain the Gaza Marine license.” Hold that thought as to why the Gaza Marine license was retained.

As Hamas and Fatah clashed bitterly, and several regional mediation efforts failed in 2008, “Operation Cast Lead” was already on Israel’s drawing board.

On the first day of the attacks, Haaretz published an article revealing that the Israeli military was already planning the takeover of Gaza, despite the smoke-screening move of removing Jewish settlers from the strip. The daily states that “Defense Minister Ehud Barak instructed the Israeli Army to prepare for the operation over six months ago [June or before June], even as Israel was beginning to negotiate a ceasefire agreement with Hamas.”

In fact, during that very same month, Globes, an Israeli online business portal, mentioned that “both [Israel’s] Finance Ministry director general Yarom Ariav and National Infrastructures Ministry director general Hezi Kugler agreed to inform BG of Israel’s wish to renew the talks [over Gaza’s Natural Gas].” And by August 2008, talks officially resumed between BG and the Israeli state. British Gas’ willingness to retain the Gaza Marine license is thus revealed, as its partnership with the apartheid state had been arranged a whole six months prior to the attacks.

Another ultimate goal of Israel’s military onslaught was to incorporate Gaza’s offshore natural gas fields into her own, to form a continuous linkage that ultimately settles in the Turkish port city of Ceyhan. This move also bypasses Palestine’s rights to these gas reserves, and continues the traditional Israeli policies of theft, lies, and more appallingly, the killing of thousands of innocent civilians.

How ironic, isn’t it? That while Gaza suffers its 35th month blockade with natural gas sparsely available for over 1.5 million imprisoned inhabitants, among many other basic necessities, 1.4 trillion-cubic-feet of the thing is sitting right there underneath their feet, confiscated by the corprotocracy of British Gas and the apartheid state of Israel.

Mohannad El-Khairy is a Palestinian who moved to Dubai after living in Canada for 18 years, He completed a degree in Economics and Political Science at Concordia University in Montreal. His writings focus on Palestine, the Arab world and their contextual significance on the international stage, which he defines as a North-South impasse. He can be directly contacted on mohannad.khairy@gmail.com






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