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Fueling democracy

Energy cooperation has the power to bring eco-friendly innovation, weaken autocrats and increase global trade

When Prime Minister Golda Meir joked, “Why did Moses lead us to the one place in the Middle East without oil?” she did not know that Israel’s territorial water is home to nearly 122 trillion cubic feet of recoverable gas.

Israel’s three largest natural gas fields — Tamar, Leviathan, and Tanin — sit in the Levantine Basin, which, much like the rest of Israel, is a contested international border. The fields have become a vital asset to Israel because the Egyptian government has periodically tightened the Sinai pipeline’s spigot since the fall of the Mubarak regime. Adding to the troubles, in a July 26, 2011, speech, Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah warned Israel not to “steal” Lebanon’s resources.

Until recently, Turkey had been vocally supportive of Lebanon cultivating the fields, offering its own naval support. Israel, however, has vowed to protect the gas fields, recently allocating three billion shekels to improving the Navy’s capacity to defend Israel’s rigs. Israel’s resources can potentially turn the country into one of the most energy independent nations in the world, as well as a critical exporter of natural gas (talk about the Promised Land).

On June 28, 2012, Turkey and Azerbaijan crafted an agreement to build the Trans-Anatolian Pipeline (TANAP). The project improves Turkish relations with the volatile Caucasus, a region that stretches from the southern part of the former Soviet Union to eastern Turkey; more importantly, it diffuses the likelihood of further confrontation with Israel, Greece and Cyprus in the Mediterranean. The project is being funded in part by the EU, and has received praise from the US because TANAP imports, supplemented by Israel’s natural gas fields, provide Europe with two attractive alternative energy options and abate Moscow’s oil hegemony over Europe.

Israel’s resources can potentially turn the country into one of the most energy independent nations in the world.
Israel’s resources can potentially turn the country into one of the most energy independent nations in the world. (gas rig image via Shutterstock)

Azerbaijan made the news in early 2012 after rumors that Baku had given Israel permission to use abandoned airfields on the Azeri-Iranian border in the event of a strike on Iran’s nuclear program. The TANAP deal was struck the same week that a Turkish air force jet was shot down by forces loyal to Syria’s President Bashar Assad, a close ally of the Iranian regime. Amid uncertainty over Syria’s future, stability, security, and continued economic growth remain the focus of Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan. The pivot in Turkey’s pipeline politics suggests a larger, calculated shift back to European alignment.

In the last five years, OPEC (Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries) exports to OECD countries have dramatically decreased. According to OPEC’s own studies, by 2020 countries in the highly industrialized OECD (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development) will consume less crude oil annually than developing countries, due both to increased energy consumption in such nations, and the effects of a global campaign to promote environmental sustainability.

The Green Revolution has begun to reverse the effects of years of complete carelessness of our environment, but new, friendlier energy exporters are equally significant, because they allow for flexibility in formerly contentious areas of the global North’s foreign policy. As developed nations turn from OPEC’s oil, despotic oligarchies lose critical foreign investment. The increase in energy cooperation has and will continue to bring eco-friendly innovation, weaken autocrats and increase global trade.

About the Author
Ben Sheridan is a political science major at Binghamton University. He formerly studied Jewish Diaspora history and Middle East Politics at the Oxford Center for Jewish and Hebrew Studies. Ben lived in Jerusalem for a year and traveled to Europe, North Africa, and India with Kivunim; there he developed a strong interest in international relations. At school, Ben is actively involved with pro-Israel advocacy and was a 2012 Goldman Fellow at the AJC. When not working, Ben loves to cook, play basketball, travel, read, and take artsy photos on his phone.