While this is the second time the gas pipeline has been blown up, there was an unsuccessful attempt a month ago. The reason the pipeline is such a major target is that Egypt supplies Israel with about 40 percent of its natural gas, which the country relies on to produce its supply of electricity.
Israeli officials on Wednesday called for the country to find ways to reduce its dependency on other countries for gas, and urged the government to quickly develop newly found gas fields off the coast of Israel. Israel Electric Company said it had enough gas in the pipeline for the next few days and then would switch to alternative fuels such as coal and diesel to produce electricity.
Exploratory drilling off Israel’s northern coast this past December confirmed the existence of a major natural gas field — one of the world’s largest offshore gas finds of the past decade — leading the country’s infrastructure minister to call it “the most important energy news since the founding of the state.”
The US Geological Survey released a report saying the Levant Basin Province, which runs up the Mediterranean Sea the length of Israel (see above), through Lebanon and the bottom tip of Syria, contains an estimated 1.7 billion barrels of Oil and 122 TCF of natural gas (that’s the best guess estimate; some project the actual reserves may be double).
Since the overthrow of Hosni Mubarak, Egyptian natural gas sales to Israel have become a major issue. In fact, Egyptian authorities have extended Mubarak’s detention to question him regarding the gas deal with Israel, in which Egypt lost more than $714 million (according to the Egyptians). Candidates to replace Mubarak have said they plan to renegotiate the contract with Israel.
The fact that the pipeline has become a flash-point and the attitude of the Egyptian people, it is clear that Israel will have to redouble its efforts to tap those wells as soon as possible.
Gas and peace with Egypt are not the only Middle East crisis points exposed by the overthrow of Hosni Mubarak. For years, Mubarak was the intermediary in reunification talks between President Abbas’ Fatah and Hamas. Mubarak had always insisted that in order for the deal to be made, Hamas must find a way to recognize Israel or the possibility of peace with Israel (ironically the Fatah party charter also refuses to recognize Israel).
Today with Mubarak gone, Hamas and Fatah have announced a reconciliation deal. While no details have been announced, based on previous statements it is almost certain that Hamas will not have to change its violent anti-Israel stance as part of the deal. It is also certain that if the unification deal sticks, and Hamas retains its stance about the destruction of Israel, the E.U. and possibly even the United States will recognize the new terrorist government. This will add momentum to the Palestinian’s goal of a unilateral declaration of statehood in September.
An article by Ryan Lizza in this week’s New Yorker gives the answer. The article called, “The Consequentialist (How the Arab Spring remade Obama’s foreign policy)” ends on an unusual note:
Nonetheless, Obama may be moving toward something resembling a doctrine. One of his advisers described the President’s actions in Libya as “leading from behind.” That’s not a slogan designed for signs at the 2012 Democratic Convention, but it does accurately describe the balance that Obama now seems to be finding. It’s a different definition of leadership than America is known for, and it comes from two unspoken beliefs: that the relative power of the U.S. is declining, as rivals like China rise, and that the U.S. is reviled in many parts of the world. Pursuing our interests and spreading our ideals thus requires stealth and modesty as well as military strength. “It’s so at odds with the John Wayne expectation for what America is in the world,” the adviser said. “But it’s necessary for shepherding us through this phase.”
Leading from behind does not work. First of all true leadership starts with a call to “follow me!” not “go ahead and I will follow.” Secondly it ignores the fact that pure military might is respected in the Arab world, and the inconstancy of Obama’s “leading from behind” strategy is seen as nothing but weakness by the radical Islamist elements in the region.
Putting it all together, it seems as if the overthrow of Mubarak brings the Middle East much closer to a major war than ever before. Not that it could have been prevented; Hosni Mubarak had been unpopular for a long time. The real question is could our president have better managed the situation to ensure that the Egyptian government was turned over to more moderate elements? And there the answer is absolutely yes.