Gaza cut out of gas boom

A Palestinian boy carries an empty gas canister outside a gas filling station in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip

BEIRUT - In the 1993 Oslo Accords between Israel and Egypt, the Israelis agreed that the newly established Palestinian Authority would have complete control of the waters off the Gaza Strip, with British Gas to develop what were then thought to be relatively small natural gas deposits in Palestinian waters.
Seven years later, the Jewish state found itself facing a chronic energy shortage and swiftly overturned that deal as it became clear the gas fields were bigger than expected.
After the Gazans signed a 2013 deal with Russia’s energy giant Gazprom to operate the gas fields, Professor Michael Schwartz of Stony Brook University, author of “War Without End: The Iraq War in Context,” said Israel took the gloves off and resorted to blunt force.
“The Israelis launched their fifth military effort to force the Palestinian acquiescence,” Operation Protective Edge, he observed.
It was ostensibly aimed at knocking out Hamas’s ability to mount rocket attacks but, in fact, the real objective was to deter Gaza’s plans to exploit the offshore gas fields. This was not achieved: Hamas is still firing salvos of rockets from Gaza. On the oil front, however, Gazprom pulled out, leaving the Palestinians at a loss.
Now, Schwartz wrote in a recent analysis, that after a series of “failed military efforts, Gaza’s natural gas is under water and “the same can be said for almost all of the Levantine gas.
“But things are not the same. Israel is ever more desperate, even as it has been building up its military, including its navy, in significant ways… The other claimants have, in turn, found larger and more powerful partners to help reinforce their economic and military claims” and the Oslo Accords are officially doomed.
“All this undoubtedly means that for the first-quarter century of crisis over eastern Mediterranean natural gas has been nothing but prelude,” Schwartz remarked. “Ahead lies the possibility of bigger gas wars with the devastation they will likely bring.”
Ed Blanche
has covered Middle East affairs since 1967. He is the Arab Weekly analyses section editor.
This article was originally published in The Arab Weekly.