If Hamas operatives were to pick up binoculars this week and look towards the sea, they would have thought to themselves that the Israelis have gone mad. Before their very eyes, a tremendous monument was established – a gas production rig, reaching a height of 290 meters and weighing 34,000 tons, standing above the waves. Formally speaking, it is claimed that it is located at a distance of "30 kilometers west of the Ashdod coast.” This, however, is just semantics – from a defensive perspective, the rig is located west of the Gaza coast, in a range easily covered by thousands of Grad rockets.
The precision of these rockets isn't particularly high, but they are a nearly unlimited resource in the Gaza Strip. One can already imagine how Hamas and Islamic Jihad will target the rig in the next round of escalation against Israel. It’s enough that one or two rockets hit the rig to inflict tremendous damage. Even if no fire is aimed at the rig, Hamas has received a gift in the form of another card to play, a threat to Israel in the event that the IDF considers to attack the electricity facilities in the Gaza Strip.
The decision to locate the tremendous gas rig specifically to the west of the Gaza coastal line is just one more example from among many on the way in which narrow national interests combine with broad economic interests, leading again and again to decisions that border on national stupidity. The story begins, of course, in 2009, with the discovery of the large Tamar national gas reserve. The discovery of the reserve (and the subsequent discovery of the Leviathan reserve which is already intended for export), is more than just economic miracle, but represents a strategic situation change, no less.
The chairman of the Israeli Electric Company, Maj. Gen (Res.) Yiftah Ron Tal, for example, says in an interview for the Israeli daily Ma'ariv that “people still find it difficult to comprehend the significance of the energy independence for Israel. The economy and energy are the name of the game in the current era. The fact that we are becoming an independent country in the field of energy is of positive strategic significance whose importance cannot be exaggerated.” The problem is that from the moment the miracle took place, countless interests have been involved in the matter, and it is difficult to reach relevant decisions. While the issue of gas taxation was covered extensively in economic newspapers, we shall focus here on the question of the position of the gas reception station.
If the consideration were merely defensive or commercial, the station for gas reception and liquefaction (a professional term describing the process the gas undergoes to allow its transfer and usage) would be located as close as possible to the Hedera power plant, and the are in which the gas were present at sea – as far as possible from the range of Hamas and Hezbollah's rockets. Accordingly, the initial plan of the companies partnered in the enterprise and of the Israeli ministry of national infrastructure was to found the station in one of the northern Sharon coasts, an idea praised by the Israeli Navy.
However, then the green organizations, whose power was enhanced by a strong population that resides ear the coasts, entered into the picture, along with Gilad Erdan, a dominant Israeli Minister of Environmental Protection with far-reaching aspirations. The objections moved the station further south. A gas pipe with a length of no less than 160 kilometers was stretched in the sea, up to a distance of one kilometer from the point where the Yam Tethys drilling site was located. Here the vast economic considerations entered into the picture: facilities by the Trans-Israeli Pipeline company, which has powerful ties (its chairman since 2012 is no less than former Israeli minister Yossi Peled, for example) are also located near the coasts of Ashkelon. The company’s facilities and plans became a rock that cannot be turned due to the halted supply of gas from Egypt. Thus, a decision was made to move the Tamar gas via Yam Tethys to the coasts of Ashkelon. So what if Gaza is so close, as well as Egypt which might return to become an enemy in the long-range.
It is more than just the Trans-Israeli Pipeline – many other companies might also benefit from the decision. What of the IDF? Don’t think that the Israeli Navy is only populated by naive personnel. The Navy and the general staff identified the opportunity to renew vessels and equipment with funds that will not be a part of the regular defense budget. That was how a plan was consolidated at approximately $400 million to fund new vessels (at the size of the older “Nirit” vessels), apparently acquired from South Korea. Sensors, naval unmanned systems and countless defense and collection measures will also be acquired.
The problem is that one day, against this entire arsenal, a lone dumb rocket will be launched from the Gaza Strip. Yet all that matters is that the environment is saved, and that the gas will begin flowing through the pipes in February.
The US company Noble Energy, which led the construction of the rig, politely refused to discuss the topic of the location of the gas rig, which was received in Israel.