A view of the platform of the Leviathan natural gas field in the Mediterranean Sea from Caesarea in 2019.
A view of the platform of the Leviathan natural gas field in the Mediterranean Sea from Caesarea in 2019.Credit: JACK GUEZ / AFP

Yossi Langotsky May. 19, 2022

As an oil geologist who devoted decades of his life to searching for oil and natural gas in Israel, and as the person who initiated and led the discovery of the Tamar offshore natural gas field – which is named after my granddaughter – in the Israeli Mediterranean Sea, I object to the insulting expressions that regularly appear in Nehemia Shtrasler’s articles on the topic of natural gas.

The use Shtrasler makes of expressions such as “the cult of natural gas charlatans” and “the last refuge of the scoundrel” against anyone who opposes the present policy on the matter is an attempt to create a virtual reality, one that not only does not advance his claims – but instead fosters the desire to propose that Shtrasler look into the mirror and examine himself carefully.

So what are the facts: The Tamar gas field, whose initial capacity was about 300 billion cubic meters of gas, has been supplying gas to Israel since March 2012 – and it will most likely supply the country’s full gas needs through 2035.

In other words, Israel can meet its entire need for gas for over 21 years from just the Tamar field alone, without a single cubic centimeter of gas from the Leviathan field. But naturally, the gas companies’ biggest interest can be found in the need to “maximize” profits, as much and as fast as possible – and this is the source of their hopes to export natural gas – even if these exports harm Israel’s future energy security. Their desire to make a profit is legitimate, as long as the Israeli government doesn’t allow them to “twist them around their little finger.”

I presented my opinion on the Israeli government’s irresponsibility concerning gas exports to Egypt to the Knesset Economic Affairs Committee back on December 6, 2015 – a few months after the discovery of the enormous Zohr gas field in the Mediterranean off the Egyptian coast. I opposed the arguments about Egypt’s supposed dependence on Israeli gas, and the security benefits stemming from it, as if we would win the lottery because of the gas we would export to Egypt.

As opposed to the opinion of Yossi Cohen, the head of the National Security Council at the time, who saw great importance in exporting the gas to Egypt – I argued that “starting in another three years, Egypt will not need gas from Israel at all – this is because from that time its own gas reservoirs will be available and can supply all of its needs.”

Now, when the facts prove my claims as being correct, the time has come to open our eyes. The gas we have been exporting to Egypt since 2020 is not meant for Egypt, which doesn’t need it. Egypt only serves as a way station for liquefying the gas before it is exported on to Europe. So please don’t confuse things: We are not helping out Egypt, but only those with assorted business interests.

Shtrasler summed up his latest article on the subject (“When will Israel’s natural gas cultists admit they were wrong?”, Haaretz, May 13) with wonder over Energean’s recent Athena site gas discovery: “ This gives it a decent chance of becoming a natural-gas powerhouse.” No more and no less. We should say our blessings for Energean’s find, of course, but it represents only a 5 percent supplement to the gas reservoirs that have been found so far.

Once more, I repeat myself and warn that the chances are small – if at all – of enormous gas finds such as those of Tamar and Leviathan, and future discoveries, which I am in favor of pursuing, will provide only small volumes of gas, similar to the Energean find. They will not change our national natural gas potential. The time has come for the people of Zion to internalize the fact that former Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz’s bombastic declaration as to the existence of three more Tamar fields and two Leviathan fields in the Israeli Mediterranean is nothing but nonsense.

It would be appropriate to listen carefully to the recommendation of former Shell CEO John Hofmeister, who said at the Herzliya Conference in 2012 that Israel must prove in practice that it has emergency gas reserves for 40 years before beginning any exports. The “experts” of the Israeli government are ignoring this critical recommendation, whose goal is to guarantee national gas reserves in the face of potential dangers that could well threaten us in the future in the energy sector (oil and natural gas). This, in light of uncertainty about the decades ahead and the inability to forecast emergency situations – just look at the Russian natural gas affair in Europe.

So, where will today’s politicians and near-sighted columnists be when it turns out decades down the line that Israel, with its very own hands, depleted the national natural gas emergency reserves it now has?

As for the “achievements” of the natural gas framework, let’s note that in his great enthusiasm for the competition between exploration companies, Shtrasler has forgotten that Chevron controls most of Israel’s gas fields today. It’s interesting why Shtrasler has not devoted even a single word to the significance of exports to Israel’s natural gas emergency reserves.

Yossi Langotsky is a geologist and a retired colonel in the IDF. He is a two-time recipient of the Israel Defense Prize.