Oiling the Hinges

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Natural gas is changing the Eastern Mediterranean. It could also shake up the Israeli-Palestinian relationship.

As the Middle East Institute outlined in a recent report, governments in southeastern Europe, the Middle East and North Africa have been struggling to develop new natural gas fields since long before Russia’s invasion of Ukraine last year. Since the invasion, however, as Europe has sought alternatives to Russian energy, skyrocketing prices have incentivized leaders to refocus their efforts on drilling and opening wells.

Egypt, for example, recently announced the discovery of massive new natural gas fields off its Mediterranean coast, wrote the Times of Israel. Other large fields have been found off the island of Cyprus, added Euractiv. Cyprus is now considering a pipeline to bring natural gas from Israel. Turkey is also seeking to expand production at its wells in the Black Sea, Bloomberg noted.

One can envision conflicts over these precious resources, of course. A court in Libya, for example, recently invalidated an offshore oil and gas drilling contract struck between Libyan officials and Turkey, finding that Egypt and Greece also had claims to the territory in question, Oilprice.com reported. Considering how Greek and Turkish ships occasionally trade warning shots as they patrol their abutting waters, as the Associated Press wrote, such developments could spark trouble even as they promise economic rewards.

These dynamics could potentially alter the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, too.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who started his third stint in office late last year, has pledged to increase natural gas production in 2023, reported Al-Monitor. In addition to exporting energy to Europe, Netanyahu also wants to shift Israel’s power production to gas-fired. Electricity prices spiked eight percent this year in the country. Currently, plants use increasingly expensive coal to provide around 20 percent of the country’s energy.

Palestinians could also benefit.

As the Washington Post explained, Israel, the Palestinian Authority and Egypt recently reached a natural gas exploration deal that could provide millions of dollars in revenue for Palestinian services, infrastructure and economic development. While technically Hamas, the militant group that runs the Gaza Strip, wasn’t a party to the deal, they must have tacitly approved it – and Israel, in turn, must have sanctioned this understanding.

The announcement is a big deal, wrote the Middle East Monitor, because it reverses years of delays in developing natural gas in the area due to Israeli fears that Hamas, which the US and Israel designate as a terrorist group, would receive a share of the proceeds.

Not all disruption is bad.

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