After years of objection, Israel finally agrees to the development of the Marine undersea natural gas field, off the Gaza coast. 

A picture shows the beach in the town of Beit Lahia with a view of the towers of an Israeli power plant in the city of Askelon, northern Gaza Strip, Dec. 15, 2021.
A picture shows the beach in the town of Beit Lahia with a view of the towers of an Israeli power plant in the city of Askelon, northern Gaza Strip, Dec. 15, 2021. – Mohammed Abed/AFP via Getty Images

Rina Bassist

June 19, 2023

Israel’s government announced on Sunday that it had granted preliminary approval for the relevant Cabinet ministries to cooperate with Egypt and the Palestinian Authority (PA) to develop the Gaza Marine offshore gas field.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office issued on Sunday a statement affirming it will advance the development of the Marine undersea natural gas field, situated some 36 kilometers (22 miles) off the shores of the Gaza Strip.  

“Implementing the project is subject to coordination between the security services and direct dialogue with Egypt, in coordination with the PA, in order to maintain the security and diplomatic interests of the State of Israel on the matter,” the statement said.

The Marine undersea gas field was discovered in 2000 by British Gas, but was never developed due to Israeli objections on the grounds of political and security reasons. British Gas gave up on its exploitation rights in 2018, handing them back to the PA, which has since been in contact with UK-based Energean. 

Israeli officials also said that the government will block the development of the Marine gas field until an advancement is registered on Hamas returning two Israeli civilians and the bodies of two Israel Defense Forces soldiers it has been holding since 2014/2015. Israel’s government also feared that the money generated by the gas field would finance Hamas terrorist activities.

An unnamed Israeli official at the prime minister’s office told Ynet on Sunday that all of the security agencies recommended the government approve the project. The same agencies had also approved the resolution of the maritime border dispute with Lebanon in November 2022, but Netanyahu rejected the recommendation, and the agreement with Lebanon was reached under the previous Bennett-Lapid government. 

“The issue of the [Israeli] prisoners and missing people was and still is a condition for the development of infrastructure in Gaza. In this case [of the Marine field], we are not talking about Gaza infrastructure, but rather about an agreement with the PA and with Egypt,” said the official.

The Jerusalem Post reported Sunday that state-owned Egyptian Natural Gas Holding Company (EGAS) is expected to take part in developing the field, estimated to hold more than 1 trillion cubic feet of natural gas. With such a quantity, the PA could cover the gas needs of the Gaza Strip and also export gas.

The development of the Marine gas field came back to the table following the Russian invasion of Ukraine in February 2022 and the ensuing sanctions on Moscow that caused a global energy crisis. The project was then discussed in the meetings of Israeli, American, Egyptian, Jordanian and Palestinian officials in Aqaba, Jordan, in February and in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, in March. The decision to now go ahead with the approval was taken by the office of Netanyahu and the National Security Council, which are spearheading the issue. 

The Biden administration and the Egyptian government have pressured Israel in recent months to give the go-ahead to the project. Thus, the Israeli decision is being viewed by local security experts as a gesture toward both Washington and Cairo. Still, according to Ynet and other media reports, Israel is expected to demand guarantees that the royalties generated by the Marine gas field will not reach Hamas.  

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