Security Will Cost more than $700 Million
TEL AVIV — Israel’s first large gas field, Tamar, is due to begin producing natural gas next April. It is an economic bonanza for the state, and a security nightmare for the navy, tasked with protecting the huge area, much of which is outside Israel’s territorial waters.
“These fields have strategic significance and could be easily a target for our neighbors,” a senior naval official in charge of planning, told The Media Line in an exclusive briefing in his office in Tel Aviv. “Usually to protect an area, we just make a sterile zone around it. But we can’t do that in international territory.”
The area that needs to be protected is huge – some 9,000 square miles – which is more than Israel’s territory on land. While the first 12 miles off the coast are considered Israel’s territorial waters, much of the rest is called an Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) but is in international waters. According to international law, the EEZ is 200 miles off the coast. In cases where two countries share the sea, the EEZ is split right down the middle. That is the case with Israel and Cyprus, which reached an agreement over how to split the gas. Conversely, Israel has not reached an agreement with Lebanon over where the maritime border should be.
The official outlined the navy’s plan for protecting the natural gas fields, which includes drones, radar and new patrol ships.
“We will need four new offshore patrol vessels outfitted with radar, anti-aircraft guns and helicopters,” he said. “Each ship costs $100 million. We will also need an additional 200-300 people.”
First, though, the navy needs a governmental decision that they are responsible for the EEZ. That was in the final stages before Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu called early elections in January. The officer says he hopes the new government will make that decision soon.
He said Israel will also install radar on smokestacks of the Hadera Power station which will be able to see far out to sea.
“I don’t want to close off large areas of the sea,” he said. “This way, the drilling companies can continue their work, and international ships can move more freely.”
As an aside he said the radar is manned exclusively by female sailors.
“They have much better concentration than the boys,” he said. “The commander of the navy could walk in and they wouldn’t move their eyes away from the screen.”
The amounts of natural gas found off Israel’s coast are staggering. There is an estimated 760 billion cubic meters of natural gas, enough to meet Israel’s energy needs for 150 years. At today’s prices, that gas would be worth $240 billion.
But accessing the gas will not be simple. To export, Israel would first need to liquefy the natural gas, which would take up scarce land in Israel and has potential environmental risks.
The first natural gas field, Tamar, already has a well 45 miles from Haifa. An underwater pipeline will run from there to a production rig that will be erected 15 miles from Israel’s southern coast near Gaza. Another gas field, Leviathan, is even larger and is 80 miles off the coast of Haifa. It is not scheduled to start producing natural gas for five years.
The pipeline is likely to be a target. An Egyptian pipeline that carried natural gas through the Sinai desert to Jordan, Syria, Lebanon and Israel has been a target for attacks.
“There are technical differences, but that pipeline was cut 15 times,” Oded Eran, a senior research associate at the Institute for National Security Studies in Tel Aviv, told The Media Line. “This pipeline will be underwater but it could be reached by divers and it would not take great skill to cut it. The navy will need faster boats and anti-missile defense systems.”
The senior Israeli naval official says the drilling platforms are also a potential target of a missile attack by Hizbullah guerillas in south Lebanon. The platform for Tamar was built in Corpus Christi, Texas and recently sunk off Israel’s coast. With its support structures it is well over 200 yards tall. It will be operated by US-based Noble Energy, which owns 36 percent of the field. The platform weighs 34,000 tons.
“These platforms could also be a target,” the official said. “We also need a plan to evacuate the platforms in the case of an attack.”