On May 9, British energy company Energean announced it had uncovered natural gas in northern Israel. This latest discovery emphasizes the Jewish state’s emerging role as a regional power in the natural gas arena.
Israel first discovered natural gas in its Eastern Mediterranean waters in the late 1990s. Over the last two decades, significant offshore reservoirs have transformed Israel from a gas importer to an exporter. Israel has used its surplus of natural gas to great diplomatic effect, and the reservoirs have greatly strengthened the country’s energy security.
A Natural Gas Rags to Riches Story
Israel was considered an energy-starved country until 1999. Then, Houston-based Noble Energy and Israel-based Delek Group uncovered the country’s first gas field, off the shores of Ashkelon.
Within two decades, the number of known gas reserves quadrupled. In 2000, the Mari-B Field was detected, providing the first commercially significant volumes of domestic natural gas to Israel’s economy. By 2012, however, production tanked as the reserve steadily depleted. In 2013, nearly 11.2 trillion cubic feet of natural gas was found in the Tamar field. Shortly after, the Leviathan Field brought an additional 15 tcf online. Several smaller gas reserves were also uncovered along Israel’s coast during this time.
As natural gas surpluses began to exceed the amount needed to sustain Israel, exports became a possibility. With extra gas to share with its neighbors, Israel could foster cooperation in the region, to the benefit of its own security. In 2016, the Jordan Electric Power Company reached a 15-year agreement to import approximately 45 million cubic meters of gas from the Leviathan field. Israel thus became Jordan’s largest gas supplier. It also supplies Egypt with roughly 5 bcm of gas through the Ashkelon-Arish subsea pipeline.
Looking Further Afield
With Israel on track to double its gas production over the next few years, it has recently turned its attention to Europe. Russian President Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine has led European countries to seek gas supplies elsewhere. According to Reuters, gas expert Gina Cohan said, “Israel must act as quickly as possible as the window to sign contracts and become a significant gas supplier to Europe will only be opened for a limited time.” Other experts believe Israel alone could provide Europe with 10-25 bcm of gas annually, without decreasing its supply to Jordan or Egypt. Additionally, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is pressuring Israel to divert to Turkey some of the gas it sends to Europe. Although the future of the EastMed project remains uncertain, its potential to alter Israeli-Turkish relations is significant.
Prior to 1999, the notion that Israel could use natural gas to improve its geopolitical standing would have been unimaginable. The Jewish state today is certainly using its reservoirs to its advantage.
Maya Carlin is a Middle East Defense Editor with 19FortyFive. She is also an analyst with the Center for Security Policy and a former Anna Sobol Levy Fellow at IDC Herzliya in Israel. She has by-lines in many publications, including The National Interest, Jerusalem Post, and Times of Israel.