Is Israel attacking Gaza for oil and gas?

When considering global conflicts and wars, the first cause that comes to mind is typically oil. Following the 1950s, natural gas was incorporated into the oil war dynamic, leading to a broader belief that gas reserves drive conflicts.

Wars contribute to the reinforcement of this belief. Some examples include World War I and the subsequent oil deals, World War II and the Baku oil dispute, and the 1953 coup against Mohammad Mossadegh for nationalizing Iranian oil with the support of the US and Britain. The examples can be multiplied, including the recent invasion of Iraq.

This is not a one-size-fits-all formula for any conflict or war, nor a magic key to uncover the enigmas of every war. The media are portraying the ongoing Israel-Palestine conflict as an application of this argument. Does Israel's war aim at seizing the natural gas and oil reserves off Gaza's coast? We will analyze historical developments and data to find an answer to this question.

How much oil and gas does Palestine have?

Gas reserves in the Eastern Mediterranean have been a topic of discussion for a long time. According to a 2010 report by the US Geological Survey, there are 3.4 trillion cubic meters (tcm) of gas in the Eastern Mediterranean, especially in and near the area corresponding to Israel's Zorh basin.

At the request of the Palestinian Authority, British Gas explored Palestine in 2000 and identified 30 billion cubic meters of gas reserves. The US Energy Information Administration (EIA) estimates that there are 45 bcm of potential gas reserves in the area, but none in Gaza or other Palestinian territories. Approximately 30-45 bcm of gas reserves exist off the coast of Gaza.

The UN Conference on Trade and Development Report offers precise details on oil reserves. According to the report, the occupied Palestinian territories have 1,525 billion barrels of proven oil reserves.

The gas reserves are relatively small compared to other fields, but the oil reserves are significant. Turkey's gas consumption fluctuates but typically averages around 58-60 bcm annually. The gas discovered in the Gaza gas field can meet Turkey's gas demand for six months. The small quantity doesn't hinder gas extraction and should be noticed. Is local production feasible?

The risks and high fees

There are serious disputes between states in the Eastern Mediterranean regarding maritime jurisdiction, which has significant energy potential. In this context, disputes exist between Turkey and Cyprus-TRNC, Greece-Turkey, Israel-Lebanon, and Israel-Palestine. The states mentioned, along with observers, are discussing and seeking solutions in the Eastern Mediterranean Forum, which Turkey joined late. The absence of Lebanon and Turkey from the forum hinders problem-solving. It's important to remember that this region has challenges, and there have been occasional conflicts. Another question arises: Can gas and oil be extracted off the coast of Gaza?

With today's technology, extracting gas and oil in the Marine fields of Gaza is possible. Geopolitical tension and the risk of conflict overshadow resource production and access to energy production.

Meanwhile, the conflicts between Israel and Palestine, which began in 1948 when Israel was established, have continued and occasionally turned into full-scale wars. The region's geopolitical risk is elevated. Ensuring equipment and personnel safety would be challenging for an energy company operating in the Gaza fields. Companies in high-risk areas take out insurance to mitigate tension and conflict. Insurance costs in Gaza could double or triple gas production profits without an assurance against Israeli attacks. Companies are reluctant because of this. Israel's suspension of production at the Tamar field after Hamas attacks is a prime example of conflict risk.

The gas resources in that location are crucial for Palestine to meet its energy needs, but extraction requires a compromise. British Gas' 2000 decision to cease production should be considered in this context. Israel and Palestine have occasionally had discussions on the issue, but no agreement has been reached yet, and it is unlikely to happen soon. While this summarizes the situation on the Palestinian front, what are resources and production?

Israel's reserves

Israel has been exploring gas in the Eastern Mediterranean since 1999. In 1999, Israel's resource studies gained momentum with the discovery of small natural gas reserves near the Port of Ashdod. In 2009, exploration efforts resulted in the discovery of 260 bcm of gas off Haifa, starting with the Tamar basin. Approximately one year later, the 'Leviathan' field, named after the biblical water creature, revealed around 600 bcm (18 trillion cubic feet) of gas. Without a doubt, there is gas in the specific area. The gas proportion may vary because of the unit used. Along with Tamar and Leviathan, Energean Oil and Gas found 68 bcm of gas and 34 million barrels of light oil in the Karish and Tanin fields in 2019.

As per EIA data, Israel's confirmed gas reserves total 700 bcm. Considering recent discoveries, the consensus among experts is that this amount is approximately 750 bcm. Israel's latest data reveals 750 bcm of proven gas reserves and around 50 million barrels of oil.

Israel has been involved in production in these fields since 2010. According to the latest data, Israel's gas production in 2022 was estimated at approximately 21.9 bcm. The domestic market consumed about 11.5 bcm, and Jordan and Egypt purchased the remaining 9.2 bcm. Egypt's gas purchases from Israel increased by 48.5% last year, reaching 6.27 bcm, as The Joint Organizations Data Initiative reported. Jordan purchased the remaining three bcm of gas.

Despite not being as big as Russia, Iran, or Qatar, Israel still has significant reserves amidst the ongoing historical conflict with Palestine. Israel's goal of expanding daily leads to the displacement of the Palestinian people, fueling the war. To overlook the reserves of Israel and Palestine and attribute the recent attacks solely to gas and oil is to oversimplify the issue and disregard the rights of the Palestinian people.

Israel desires to completely control Gaza, the West Bank, and East Jerusalem. Incorporating gas and oil into the scenario amidst a war-torn West Bank because of settlers (even criticized by the Israeli army) has failed to enhance comprehension of energy conflicts and generates unnecessary information pollution.

Israel desires Gaza, but the gas fields are not its priority. First, it already possesses sufficient gas resources and can sell any excess. Second, it effectively halts the production of gas and oil while successfully enforcing the "produce with permission or not at all" approach. A warning should conclude this point. Society and the media should prioritize being wary of experts who rely on memorized facts.

Note: I would like to thank Sohbet Karbuz, Aydın Sezer, and Arif Akturk for providing me with sources and information while writing this article.

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