How Gaza’s Natural Gas Became the Epicenter of an International Power Struggle

By Michael Schwartz, an emeritus distinguished teaching professor of sociology at Stony Brook University, is a TomDispatch regular and the author of the award-winning books Radical Protest and Social Structure and The Power Structure of American Business (with Beth Mintz). His TomDispatch book, War Without End, focused on how the militarized geopolitics of oil led the U.S. to invade and occupy Iraq. His email address is Originally published at TomDispatch

Guess what? Almost all the current wars, uprisings, and other conflicts in the Middle East are connected by a single thread, which is also a threat: these conflicts are part of an increasingly frenzied competition to find, extract, and market fossil fuels whose future consumption is guaranteed to lead to a set of cataclysmic environmental crises.

Amid the many fossil-fueled conflicts in the region, one of them, packed with threats, large and small, has been largely overlooked, and Israel is at its epicenter. Its origins can be traced back to the early 1990s when Israeli and Palestinian leaders began sparring over rumored natural gas deposits in the Mediterranean Sea off the coast of Gaza. In the ensuing decades, it has grown into a many-fronted conflict involving several armies and three navies. In the process, it has already inflicted mindboggling misery on tens of thousands of Palestinians, and it threatens to add future layers of misery to the lives of people in Syria, Lebanon, and Cyprus. Eventually, it might even immiserate Israelis.

Resource wars are, of course, nothing new. Virtually the entire history of Western colonialism and post-World War II globalization has been animated by the effort to find and market the raw materials needed to build or maintain industrial capitalism. This includes Israel’s expansion into, and appropriation of, Palestinian lands. But fossil fuels only moved to center stage in the Israeli-Palestinian relationship in the 1990s, and that initially circumscribed conflict only spread to include Syria, Lebanon, Cyprus, Turkey, and Russia after 2010.

The Poisonous History of Gazan Natural Gas

Back in 1993, when Israel and the Palestinian Authority (PA) signed the Oslo Accords that were supposed to end the Israeli occupation of Gaza and the West Bank and create a sovereign state, nobody was thinking much about Gaza’s coastline. As a result, Israel agreed that the newly created PA would fully control its territorial waters, even though the Israeli navy was still patrolling the area. Rumored natural gas deposits there mattered little to anyone, because prices were then so low and supplies so plentiful. No wonder that the Palestinians took their time recruiting British Gas (BG) — a major player in the global natural gas sweepstakes — to find out what was actually there. Only in 2000 did the two parties even sign a modest contract to develop those by-then confirmed fields.

BG promised to finance and manage their development, bear all the costs, and operate the resulting facilities in exchange for 90% of the revenues, an exploitative but typical “profit-sharing” agreement. With an already functioning natural gas industry, Egypt agreed to be the on-shore hub and transit point for the gas. The Palestinians were to receive 10% of the revenues (estimated at about a billion dollars in total) and were guaranteed access to enough gas to meet their needs.

Had this process moved a little faster, the contract might have been implemented as written. In 2000, however, with a rapidly expanding economy, meager fossil fuels, and terrible relations with its oil-rich neighbors, Israel found itself facing a chronic energy shortage. Instead of attempting to answer its problem with an aggressive but feasible effort to develop renewable sources of energy, Prime Minister Ehud Barak initiated the era of Eastern Mediterranean fossil fuel conflicts. He brought Israel’s naval control of Gazan coastal waters to bear and nixed the deal with BG. Instead, he demanded that Israel, not Egypt, receive the Gaza gas and that it also control all the revenues destined for the Palestinians — to prevent the money from being used to “fund terror.”

With this, the Oslo Accords were officially doomed. By declaring Palestinian control over gas revenues unacceptable, the Israeli government committed itself to not accepting even the most limited kind of Palestinian budgetary autonomy, let alone full sovereignty. Since no Palestinian government or organization would agree to this, a future filled with armed conflict was assured.

The Israeli veto led to the intervention of British Prime Minister Tony Blair, who sought to broker an agreement that would satisfy both the Israeli government and the Palestinian Authority. The result: a 2007 proposal that would have delivered the gas to Israel, not Egypt, at below-market prices, with the same 10% cut of the revenues eventually reaching the PA. However, those funds were first to be delivered to the Federal Reserve Bank in New York for future distribution, which was meant to guarantee that they would not be used for attacks on Israel.

This arrangement still did not satisfy the Israelis, who pointed to the recent victory of the militant Hamas party in Gaza elections as a deal-breaker. Though Hamas had agreed to let the Federal Reserve supervise all spending, the Israeli government, now led by Ehud Olmert, insisted that no “royalties be paid to the Palestinians.” Instead, the Israelis would deliver the equivalent of those funds “in goods and services.”

This offer the Palestinian government refused. Soon after, Olmert imposed a draconian blockade on Gaza, which Israel’s defense minister termed a form of “‘economic warfare’ that would generate a political crisis, leading to a popular uprising against Hamas.” With Egyptian cooperation, Israel then seized control of all commerce in and out of Gaza, severely limiting even food imports and eliminating its fishing industry. As Olmert advisor Dov Weisglass summed up this agenda, the Israeli government was putting the Palestinians “on a diet” (which, according to the Red Cross, soon produced “chronic malnutrition,” especially among Gazan children).

When the Palestinians still refused to accept Israel’s terms, the Olmert government decided to unilaterally extract the gas, something that, they believed, could only occur once Hamas had been displaced or disarmed. As former Israel Defense Forces commander and current Foreign Minister Moshe Ya’alon explained, “Hamas… has confirmed its capability to bomb Israel’s strategic gas and electricity installations… It is clear that, without an overall military operation to uproot Hamas control of Gaza, no drilling work can take place without the consent of the radical Islamic movement.”

Following this logic, Operation Cast Lead was launched in the winter of 2008. According to Deputy Defense Minister Matan Vilnai, it was intended to subject Gaza to a “shoah” (the Hebrew word for holocaust or disaster). Yoav Galant, the commanding general of the Operation, said that it was designed to “send Gaza decades into the past.” As Israeli parliamentarian Tzachi Hanegbi explained, the specific military goal was “to topple the Hamas terror regime and take over all the areas from which rockets are fired on Israel.”

Operation Cast Lead did indeed “send Gaza decades into the past.” Amnesty International reported that the 22-day offensive killed 1,400 Palestinians, “including some 300 children and hundreds of other unarmed civilians, and large areas of Gaza had been razed to the ground, leaving many thousands homeless and the already dire economy in ruins.” The only problem: Operation Cast Lead did not achieve its goal of “transferring the sovereignty of the gas fields to Israel.”

More Sources of Gas Equal More Resource Wars

In 2009, the newly elected government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu inherited the stalemate around Gaza’s gas deposits and an Israeli energy crisis that only grew more severe when the Arab Spring in Egypt interrupted and then obliterated 40% of the country’s gas supplies. Rising energy prices soon contributed to the largest protests involving Jewish Israelis in decades.

As it happened, however, the Netanyahu regime also inherited a potentially permanent solution to the problem. An immense field of recoverable natural gas was discovered in the Levantine Basin, a mainly offshore formation under the eastern Mediterranean. Israeli officials immediately asserted that “most” of the newly confirmed gas reserves lay “within Israeli territory.” In doing so, they ignored contrary claims by Lebanon, Syria, Cyprus, and the Palestinians.

In some other world, this immense gas field might have been effectively exploited by the five claimants jointly, and a production plan might even have been put in place to ameliorate the environmental impact of releasing a future 130 trillion cubic feet of gas into the planet’s atmosphere. However, as Pierre Terzian, editor of the oil industry journal Petrostrategies, observed, “All the elements of danger are there… This is a region where resorting to violent action is not something unusual.”

In the three years that followed the discovery, Terzian’s warning seemed ever more prescient. Lebanon became the first hot spot. In early 2011, the Israeli government announced the unilateral development of two fields, about 10% of that Levantine Basin gas, which lay in disputed offshore waters near the Israeli-Lebanese border. Lebanese Energy Minister Gebran Bassil immediately threatened a military confrontation, asserting that his country would “not allow Israel or any company working for Israeli interests to take any amount of our gas that is falling in our zone.” Hezbollah, the most aggressive political faction in Lebanon, promised rocket attacks if “a single meter” of natural gas was extracted from the disputed fields.

Israel’s Resource Minister accepted the challenge, asserting that “[t]hese areas are within the economic waters of Israel… We will not hesitate to use our force and strength to protect not only the rule of law but the international maritime law.”

Oil industry journalist Terzian offered this analysis of the realities of the confrontation:

“In practical terms… nobody is going to invest with Lebanon in disputed waters. There are no Lebanese companies there capable of carrying out the drilling, and there is no military force that could protect them. But on the other side, things are different. You have Israeli companies that have the ability to operate in offshore areas, and they could take the risk under the protection of the Israeli military.”

Sure enough, Israel continued its exploration and drilling in the two disputed fields, deploying drones to guard the facilities. Meanwhile, the Netanyahu government invested major resources in preparing for possible future military confrontations in the area. For one thing, with lavish U.S. funding, it developed the “Iron Dome” anti-missile defense system designed in part to intercept Hezbollah and Hamas rockets aimed at Israeli energy facilities. It also expanded the Israeli navy, focusing on its ability to deter or repel threats to offshore energy facilities. Finally, starting in 2011 it launched airstrikes in Syria designed, according to U.S. officials, “to prevent any transfer of advanced… antiaircraft, surface-to-surface and shore-to-ship missiles” to Hezbollah.

Nonetheless, Hezbollah continued to stockpile rockets capable of demolishing Israeli facilities. And in 2013, Lebanon made a move of its own. It began negotiating with Russia. The goal was to get that country’s gas firms to develop Lebanese offshore claims, while the formidable Russian navy would lend a hand with the “long-running territorial dispute with Israel.”

By the beginning of 2015, a state of mutual deterrence appeared to be setting in. Although Israel had succeeded in bringing online the smaller of the two fields it set out to develop, drilling in the larger one was indefinitely stalled “in light of the security situation.” U.S. contractor Noble Energy, hired by the Israelis, was unwilling to invest the necessary $6 billion dollars in facilities that would be vulnerable to Hezbollah attack, and potentially in the gun sights of the Russian navy. On the Lebanese side, despite an increased Russian naval presence in the region, no work had begun.

Meanwhile, in Syria, where violence was rife and the country in a state of armed collapse, another kind of stalemate went into effect. The regime of Bashar al-Assad, facing a ferocious threat from various groups of jihadists, survived in part by negotiating massive military support from Russia in exchange for a 25-year contract to develop Syria’s claims to that Levantine gas field. Included in the deal was a major expansion of the Russian naval base at the port city of Tartus, ensuring a far larger Russian naval presence in the Levantine Basin.

While the presence of the Russians apparently deterred the Israelis from attempting to develop any Syrian-claimed gas deposits, there was no Russian presence in Syria proper. So Israel contracted with the U.S.-based Genie Energy Corporation to locate and develop oil fields in the Golan Heights, Syrian territory occupied by the Israelis since 1967. Facing a potential violation of international law, the Netanyahu government invoked, as the basis for its acts, an Israeli court ruling that the exploitation of natural resources in occupied territories was legal. At the same time, to prepare for the inevitable battle with whichever faction or factions emerged triumphant from the Syrian civil war, it began shoring up the Israeli military presence in the Golan Heights.

And then there was Cyprus, the only Levantine claimant not at war with Israel. Greek Cypriots had long been in chronic conflict with Turkish Cypriots, so it was hardly surprising that the Levantine natural gas discovery triggered three years of deadlocked negotiations on the island over what to do. In 2014, the Greek Cypriots signed an exploration contract with Noble Energy, Israel’s chief contractor. The Turkish Cypriots trumped this move by signing a contract with Turkey to explore all Cypriot claims “as far as Egyptian waters.” Emulating Israel and Russia, the Turkish government promptly moved three navy vessels into the area to physically block any intervention by other claimants.

As a result, four years of maneuvering around the newly discovered Levantine Basin deposits have produced little energy, but brought new and powerful claimants into the mix, launched a significant military build-up in the region, and heightened tensions immeasurably.

Gaza Again — and Again

Remember the Iron Dome system, developed in part to stop Hezbollah rockets aimed at Israel’s northern gas fields? Over time, it was put in place near the border with Gaza to stop Hamas rockets, and was tested during Operation Returning Echo, the fourth Israeli military attempt to bring Hamas to heel and eliminate any Palestinian “capability to bomb Israel’s strategic gas and electricity installations.”

Launched in March 2012, it replicated on a reduced scale the devastation of Operation Cast Lead, while the Iron Dome achieved a 90% “kill rate” against Hamas rockets. Even this, however, while a useful adjunct to the vast shelter system built to protect Israeli civilians, was not enough to ensure the protection of the country’s exposed oil facilities. Even one direct hit there could damage or demolish such fragile and flammable structures.

The failure of Operation Returning Echo to settle anything triggered another round of negotiations, which once again stalled over the Palestinian rejection of Israel’s demand to control all fuel and revenues destined for Gaza and the West Bank. The new Palestinian Unity government then followed the lead of the Lebanese, Syrians, and Turkish Cypriots, and in late 2013 signed an “exploration concession” with Gazprom, the huge Russian natural gas company. As with Lebanon and Syria, the Russian Navy loomed as a potential deterrent to Israeli interference.

Meanwhile, in 2013, a new round of energy blackouts caused “chaos” across Israel, triggering a draconian 47% increase in electricity prices. In response, the Netanyahu government considered a proposal to begin extracting domestic shale oil, but the potential contamination of water resources caused a backlash movement that frustrated this effort. In a country filled with start-up high-tech firms, the exploitation of renewable energy sources was still not being given serious attention. Instead, the government once again turned to Gaza.

With Gazprom’s move to develop the Palestinian-claimed gas deposits on the horizon, the Israelis launched their fifth military effort to force Palestinian acquiescence, Operation Protective Edge. It had two major hydrocarbon-related goals: to deter Palestinian-Russian plans and to finally eliminate the Gazan rocket systems. The first goal was apparently met when Gazprom postponed (perhaps permanently) its development deal. The second, however, failed when the two-pronged land and air attack — despite unprecedented devastation in Gaza — failed to destroy Hamas’s rocket stockpiles or its tunnel-based assembly system; nor did the Iron Dome achieve the sort of near-perfect interception rate needed to protect proposed energy installations.

There Is No Denouement

After 25 years and five failed Israeli military efforts, Gaza’s natural gas is still underwater and, after four years, the same can be said for almost all of the Levantine gas. But things are not the same. In energy terms, 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. All of this undoubtedly means that the first quarter-century of crisis over eastern Mediterranean natural gas has been nothing but prelude. Ahead lies the possibility of bigger gas wars with the devastation they are likely to bring.

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  1. Adam Levitin

    This is some of the craziest sh*t I’ve read in a while. Yes, there’s a real issue about who owns the off-shore natural gas deposits in the eastern Mediterranean. It’s worthy of some comment, although it’s far from the top of the list of issues in that part of the world. But the idea presented in this post that the last few Gaza conflicts have been driven by Israel’s desire to control gas exploration rights is just nuts. One wouldn’t have any clue from reading this that Palestinian terrorists digging tunnels under the armistice line to attack Israelis. It barely mentions the indiscriminate launching thousands of rockets into Israel as a causus belli. Nope, it’s all about the greed for the gas. Given that energy = money, this piece basically reads as “Jews kill Arabs to make more money.” This piece is totally infected with left-wing antisemitism. You shouldn’t be rebroadcasting it, Susan.

    1. Clive

      Can your really assert though that Israel hasn’t got prior convictions for acting in the way described in the above article? In Suez, israel’s military was clearly duplicit in taking action under what — as it was correctly identified later — was a mere pretext for underlying strategic aims.

      No-one in the piece seems to be claiming that munitions should ever be fired on civilians. But what is a subject for legitimate enquiry is why those munitions came to be fired in the first place and whether there might be more to the responses and countermeasures that a superficial explanation reveals.

      I’m not saying that I can find overwhelmingly convincing evidence to support all the arguments made in the article. But in such cases as described, you don’t expect to. But to say that such possibilities shouldn’t be expressed — and held up to analysis — isn’t in my opinion a sensible reaction.

      1. Jim Haygood

        Through indiscriminate overuse (as in this instance), ‘antisemite’ has been been reduced to just a generic term of opprobrium. Now ‘antisemite’ has no more to do with religious prejudice than ‘douchebag’ has to do with a piece of medical equipment.

        Well done, Mr Levitin!

        1. susan the other

          A bit harsh JH but not too. I fully expected Clive to be the first responder and I was also stunned by Adam Levitin’s comment because he is otherwise a very informed guy. Interestingly, the timing of all these incidents correlates to Adam’s area of expertise: the credit markets. So that is a yet unexplored frontier. Crashing credit and the international war for energy. I do not agree that this summary of events is an expression of anti-semitism. If anything, over the last few years, I have appreciated Yves balanced reporting and re-posting citations. I certainly don’t like it that everyone in the Middle East is engaged in irrational armageddon – as opposed to some slightly better armageddon that leaves at least one person standing; but this summary was exceptional. We all have to acknowledge how nuts we are. This post is an economic-political map to follow for the next decade. Thank you Yves for posting the above Mr. Schwarz – and website Thank you Yves for this comprehensive perspective. At least a zillion.

    2. suchaprice

      I’m calling hasbara on this and YOU, Mr Levitin. Your comments on this blog in the past have been in the guise of ‘reasonable debate’ (2, mebbe even 3 sides to a coin style) but rushing in to be at the top of the comments and, on top of that, calling out our beloved and humble host by her birth name (no big secret, btw) for rebroadcasting “left-wing anti-semitism” makes my blood boil to the point of abandoning my near-perfect lurker track record (5 years here). Of course it’s about the money. A LOT of money. By the way, arabs are Semites too. And Ihor Kolomoiski wears a yarmulke. Just saying…

    3. archer

      Since when is criticizing Israel tantamount to being anti-Semitic? Only in the eyes of the AIPAC thought police. As Tom Engelhardt wrote years ago:

      “It’s ironic, then, that the threat of sparking such “anti-Semitism,” as well as charges of being functionally anti-Semitic, have been used for a long time in this country as a kind of club to enforce, within the Jewish community, an exceedingly narrow range of correct opinion on Israel and its behavior in the world.”

    4. skippy

      Adam Israel has engaged in military action over water rights.

      “In the Middle East, water resources are of great political concern. Since Israel receives much of its water from two large underground aquifers which continue under the Green Line, the use of this water has been contentious in the Israeli–Palestinian conflict. Israel withdraws most water from these areas, but it also supplies the West Bank with approximately 40 million cubic metres annually, contributing to 77% of Palestinians’ water supply in the West Bank, which is to be shared for a population of about 2.6 million.[175]

      While Israel’s consumption of this water has decreased since it began its occupation of the West Bank, it still consumes the majority of it: in the 1950s, Israel consumed 95% of the water output of the Western Aquifer, and 82% of that produced by the Northeastern Aquifer. Although this water was drawn entirely on Israel’s own side of the pre-1967 border, the sources of the water are nevertheless from the shared groundwater basins located under both West Bank and Israel.[176]

      In the Oslo II Accord, both sides agreed to maintain “existing quantities of utilization from the resources.” In so doing, the Palestinian Authority established the legality of Israeli water production in the West Bank, subject to a Joint Water Committee (JWC). Moreover, Israel obligated itself in this agreement to provide water to supplement Palestinian production, and further agreed to allow additional Palestinian drilling in the Eastern Aquifer, also subject to the Joint Water Committee.[177] Many Palestinians counter that the Oslo II agreement was intended to be a temporary resolution and that it was not intended to remain in effect more than a decade later.

      In 1999, Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said it continued to honor its obligations under the Interim Agreement.[178] The water that Israel receives comes mainly from the Jordan River system, the Sea of Galilee and two underground sources. According to a 2003 BBC article the Palestinians lack access to the Jordan River system.[179]

      According to a report of 2008 by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, water resources were confiscated for the benefit of the Israeli settlements in the Ghor. Palestinian irrigation pumps on the Jordan River were destroyed or confiscated after the 1967 war and Palestinians were not allowed to use water from the Jordan River system. Furthermore, the authorities did not allow any new irrigation wells to be drilled by Palestinian farmers, while it provided fresh water and allowed drilling wells for irrigation purposes at the Jewish settlements in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.[180]

      A report was released by the UN in August 2012 and Maxwell Gaylard, the UN Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator in the occupied Palestinian territory, explained at the launch of the publication: “Gaza will have half a million more people by 2020 while its economy will grow only slowly. In consequence, the people of Gaza will have an even harder time getting enough drinking water and electricity, or sending their children to school”. Gaylard present alongside Jean Gough, of the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), and Robert Turner, of the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA). The report projects that Gaza’s population will increase from 1.6 million people to 2.1 million people in 2020, leading to a density of more than 5,800 people per square kilometre.[181]”

      “Water supply and sanitation in the Palestinian territories are characterized by severe water shortage and are highly influenced by the Israeli occupation. The water resources of Palestine are fully controlled by Israel and the division of groundwater is subject to provisions in the Oslo II Accord.

      Generally, the water quality is considerably worse in the Gaza strip when compared to the West Bank. About a third to half of the delivered water in the Palestinian territories is lost in the distribution network. The lasting blockade of the Gaza Strip and the Gaza War have caused severe damage to the infrastructure in the Gaza Strip.[8][9] Concerning wastewater, the existing treatment plants do not have the capacity to treat all of the produced wastewater, causing severe water pollution.[7] The development of the sector highly depends on external financing.[5]”

      “Historical background

      Studies of regional water resources and their development, in modern terms, date from the early 1900s during the period of Ottoman rule;[13] they also follow in light of a significant engineering milestone and resource development achievement.[14] Based largely on geographic, engineering and economic considerations many of these plans included common components, but political considerations and international events would soon follow.[13]

      In the late 1930s and mid-1940s, Transjordan and the World Zionist Organization commissioned mutually exclusive competing water resource studies. The Transjordanian study, performed by Michael G. Ionides, concluded that the available water resources are not sufficient to sustain a Jewish state which would be the destination for Jewish immigration. The Zionist study, by the American engineer Walter Clay Lowdermilk, concluded that by diverting water from the Jordan basin to support agriculture and residential development in the Negev, a Jewish state supporting 4 million new immigrants would be sustainable.[15] At the end of the 1948 Arab Israeli War with the signing of the General Armistice Agreements in 1949, both Israel and Jordan embarked on implementing their competing initiatives to utilize the water resources in the areas under their control.

      The first “Master Plan for Irrigation in Israel” was drafted in 1950 and approved by a Board of Consultants (of the USA) on 8 March 1956. The main features of the Master Plan was the construction of the Israeli National Water Carrier (NWC), a project for the integration of all major regional projects into the Israeli national grid. Tahal – Water Planning for Israel Ltd., an Israeli public corporate body, was established in 1952, being largely responsible for planning of water development, drainage, etc., at the national level within Israel, including the NWC project which was commissioned in 1965.

      In 1953, Israel began construction of a water carrier to take water from the Sea of Galilee to the populated center and agricultural south of the country, while Jordan concluded an agreement with Syria, known as the Bunger plan, to dam the Yarmouk River near Maqarin, and utilize its waters to irrigate Jordanian territory, before they could flow to the Sea of Galilee.[16] Military clashes ensued, and US President Dwight Eisenhower dispatched ambassador Johnston to the region to work out a plan that would regulate water usage.[17]”

      Skip here… So there is corroborating history wrt the topic, as such you might want to reconsider your emotive response, especially your acute personalization wrt the host of this blog.

    5. Adam Levitin

      I’m not surprised to get flak from the antisemitic left in the comments, and I’m going to take the bait, at least for one round of comments.

      The left has its own serious antisemitism problem. It’s different than the right’s antisemitism problem (it’s not usually openly violent, “soft”), but it’s a festering problem that needs to be cleaned up. There should be no place for antisemitism on the left, even under the guise of anti-Israel positions. This sort of bigoted hatred is ugly and has no place in progressive politics. The first place to start extirpating this sickness is in the blogosphere.

      Obviously there is plenty of room for legitimate criticism of Israel without being antisemitic. This blog post doesn’t qualify. There are three reasons why:

      (1) Undue focus on Israel. This post displays criticism of Israel that isn’t equivalent to criticism of other (and much worse) states (or non-state groups). Herzlian Zionism has always strived to make Israel a “normal” country, not some particular ethical beacon or “light unto the nations”. Yet Israel is being subjected to a higher standard of scrutiny than virtually any other state.

      (2)Lack of appropriate contextualization. Failure to discuss the actions of Hamas, while focusing on Israel’s interest in natural gas development is not a reasonable or fair analysis by any measure.

      (3) Use of classic antisemitic tropes like claiming that Jews acting treacherously for money.

      Put that all together, and this is classic left-wing soft antisemitism. If you endorse it, you’re a bigot. I’m friends with Susan and don’t think she does endorse this, but I might be a more sensitive reader to these issues than she is, and I hate to see an important blog on a lot of social issues marred by this sort of Jew-baiting piece.

      Now for some specific points:

      (1) I think there’s a general consensus in Israel that 1956 was a clumsy mistake. That’s from a different era, however.

      (2) Water resources are a different matter than energy. Water was and still is a real factor in Israeli-Arab relations. There have been border skirmishes in the 1950s and 1960s among water rights (among many other issues—such skirmishes were a regular occurrence until 1973). But Israel has never gone to war to grab water resources.

      (3) Petrogreed explains some things in the Middle East, but not everything. It explains a lot about British actions in relation to Iran, but if one is going to seriously argue that petrogreed is the driver, then one has to offset the cost of military operations, which in the case of Israel likely outweigh most, if not all of the gains from gas extraction.

      (4) The term “antisemitism” has, since its creation by the Anglo-German antisemite Wilhelm Marr (Richard Wagner’s son-in-law), referred solely to hatred of Jews. It has never really had anything to do with “Semites” per se (other than defining Jews as Semites in contrast to Aryans), so the fact that Arabs (among others) are Semites is irrelevant. Harping on Arabs also being Semites shows ignorance about the concept of antisemitism (hence it’s best spelled as one word without hyphenation or capitalization) and is not a meaningful response to a charge of antisemitism. But perhaps we should be less clinical and just use the more traditional and descriptive term Jew-haters.

      1. SaltyJustice

        I am reminded by your comment of some posts by Jon Schwarz over at A Tiny Revolution. In those posts he points out that violent, angry morons (his words), when confronted by their violent, angry idiocy, get upset that the person in question is not spending their time complaining about the other group’s violent, angry idiocy.

        In the post I was thinking of, he used Hillary Clinton and Ayman al-Zawahiri, since they were using the same rhetoric. Your first and second reasons presented fall into that category. If Hamas was a major player in the region, with billions of dollars of funding and a modern military, you might have a point. It isn’t. You don’t.

        Hilariously, point 3 contradicts point 1. Evidently, when the rest of the world (normal nations) act treacherously for money, calling them on it is a-okay. When Isreal does it, calling them on it is anti-semitic, even if there’s no racism whatsoever, or even a real ‘hatred’.

        So that’s my piece. If you’re wondering why your rhetoric never seems to get much traction, now you know.

        1. norm de plume

          ‘Evidently, when the rest of the world (normal nations) act treacherously for money, calling them on it is a-okay. When Isreal does it, calling them on it is anti-semitic, even if there’s no racism whatsoever, or even a real ‘hatred’’

          It’s great , isn’t it? An eternal get out of jail free card, a gift that keeps on giving, an all-weather cover, a panacea. Not to mention a handy salve to a subterranean collective conscience, haunted by its own original sin, the Nakba.

      2. Integer Owl

        I am really looking forward to Susan’s reply.

        While I really have no interest in religion, it seems to me that there are certain inescapable truths to each, which don’t paint any of them in a particularly good light. I would also put forward that “Jews kill Arabs to make more money” (your words not mine) is incorrect, as it seems, if one were to board your train of thought, that “Jews denying Arabs energy independence in order to ensure their stranglehold on the area” would be more correct. Like I say, I have no dog in this race, however this is probably what you meant to say.

        I get the feeling that your statement that you are friends with Yves may be not as innocuous as it may seem, though I may be wrong.

      3. Sibiriak

        Adam Levitin: (“1) Undue focus on Israel. This post displays criticism of Israel that isn’t equivalent to criticism of other (and much worse) states (or non-state groups).”

        How so? You make no argument and present no evidence. Various other states and non-state groups are regularly subjected to severe criticism on similar bases; there is no special standard for Israel.

        “(2)Lack of appropriate contextualization. Failure to discuss the actions of Hamas, while focusing on Israel’s interest in natural gas development is not a reasonable or fair analysis by any measure.”

        Make a case for that point, then. Articles posted at this site often face severe criticism. Challenge the article with facts and logic. Do that. But please don’t equate criticism of Israel with “Jew hatred”. That’s just spurious, shopworn hasbara.

        “(3) Use of classic antisemitic tropes like claiming that Jews acting treacherously for money. “

        But the article employs no such tropes and makes no such claim. It deals with actions of the Israeli state, not “Jews” in general, and it’s simply false to equate the two–which is exactly what your argument does.
        “I hate to see an important blog on a lot of social issues marred by this sort of Jew-baiting piece.”

        I hate to see this blog marred by your absolutely baseless, reprehensible accusations and McCarthyistic rhetoric.

      4. susan the other

        The obvious solution to all this end-of-industrial conflict is to please Just leave that shit in the ground. Don’t extract it. Begin to curb your enthusiasm. Wear an extra pair of sox in the winter, you nitwit. And in the summer seek the shade. And take the bus, for god’s sake.

      5. curlydan

        ” There should be no place for antisemitism on the left, even under the guise of anti-Israel positions.”

        Adam: I’m sorry you view the post above and many commenters this way. I thought the blog post was a bit over the top in viewing the recent conflict extensively through the lens of natural gas rights. So in that sense, the analysis from the above post was a bit restricted. But my main response is “There should be no place for charges of anti-Semitism after reading harsh criticism of the Israeli government and military.” You seem like an analytical guy. If you think the analysis is wrong, say why. But to throw out inflammatory labels to a blog post that ticked you off isn’t right.

      6. Fool


        To address your charges of “antisemitisim,” if not the common unfortunate conflation thereof with criticism of Israel…

        1) Undue focus on Israel.

        American Jewish advocates (AIPAC, AJC, etc.) argue that criticism of Israel’s behavior is not antisemitic if it includes an equally balanced criticism of Hamas/Palestinians. This view is economically if not morally problematic. The ascent of Hamas’ political control, the anti-Israel culture they foster, the rockets they fire, etc. can’t be stripped out of their literal and figurative context: that they are launched from a ghetto. There is literally nothing that the Palestinian side can do to rectify this socioeconomic political reality; rational decisions toward economic utility presuppose political and social decisions that follow and in this regard there is almost no agency. “Undue focus” on Israel is thus sensible, as Israel at the very least has choices.

        (2)Lack of appropriate contextualization. Failure to discuss the actions of Hamas, while focusing on Israel’s interest in natural gas development is not a reasonable or fair analysis by any measure.

        Not sure I follow your logic here.

        (3) Use of classic antisemitic tropes like claiming that Jews acting treacherously for money.

        Everyone acts treacherously for money. Jews, historically, have been wealthy, which makes them (us) vulnerable to populist antagonism in this way. One day I hope to write a Marxist history of xenophobia as class-based resentment/anxiety filtered through an intellectually obstructed and alienated superstructure — but I digress — antisemitism should thus be understood as a criticism regarding Jews that is particularly irrational in economic terms. To criticize the underlying (and now historically obvious) motives of the Iraq War wouldn’t be antisemitic, but to blame it all on Wolfowitz would be.

    6. Johnny Pallyswine

      The writer is nuts!! An examination of the Levant Basin shows that the lion’s share belongs to Israel, then Lebanon, Syria and then,,,, gaza. The portion theoretically belonging to gaza is the smallest. Furthermore, in the real world, the booty goes to the victor or those who can keep it. If Russia gets involved with gaza, that will change things but the portion belonging to gaza, theoretically, is small compared to the amount belonging to Israel.

    7. Strangely Enough

      “left-wing antisemitism” = someone said something about Israel that I don’t like but I can’t find anything actually racist to point to…

      1. skippy

        The broad bushing of everyone as a rabid left-wing antisemitic is a triple entendre Schrodinger’s box.

        Skippy…. Adam… whose clean anymore…

  2. John Jones

    “The new Palestinian Unity government then followed the lead of the Lebanese, Syrians, and Turkish Cypriots”

    They might of followed the lead of the Palestinians, Lebanese and Syrians but don’t see how they followed the lead of the Turkish Cypriots considering The northern part of the island were the Turkish Cypriots are is under the occupation of the Turkish military since its 1974 invasion and ethnic cleansing of the Greek Cypriots there and the Turkish settlers it has brought in from mainland Turkey. It seems to me that the Turkish Cypriots(Though I doubt it was their call and instead probably Turkey’s) have instead taken the lead of Israel in trying to exploit gas in territory that does not belong to them.

    The legitimate government is the Republic of Cyprus were the Greek Cypriots are and not the occupied territories so I don’t see the legal basis for them signing anything as it is considered occupied territory.

    In saying that actual Turkish Cypriots and not illegal settlers or Turkey should have rights to any potential oil and gas wealth like any other Cypriot citizen when Turkey stops the occupation of Cyprus.

    So I don’t know why Michael Schwartz never mentions Turkeys continued occupation? Even though he mentions the occupation of Palestinian and Syrian territory.

  3. vidimi

    fantastic article. yet western intelligentsia will still present this conflict in terms of religion. if only they could get along…

      1. Carolinian

        But of course one of the traditional goals of colonialism is control of resources as well as land. This is a great article. Thanks to NC for picking it up.

  4. Jim Haygood

    ‘In early 2011, the Israeli government announced the unilateral development of two fields, about 10% of that Levantine Basin gas, which lay in disputed offshore waters near the Israeli-Lebanese border.’

    Recall that in the UN partition map of 1947, the Arab state was to control a stretch of Mediterranean coast between Haifa and Lebanon, thus enhancing its claim to Mediterranean gas fields. Map:

    Every state understands that coastal access is valuable, not only for trade but also for claims to seabed resources. Israeli deprived the nascent Arab state of its northern coastal strip, and by military means has de facto deprived Gaza of access to the trade, fishing and energy resources of its coast.

  5. thelonegunman

    wherever there is oil or gas, there is a geopolitical ‘hot-spot’ (DNR, Libya, Syria, Iraq, Yemen – many more) involving the west ‘protecting “us”‘ from ‘them’.
    coincidence? i think not…
    ‘what are all those brown people doing living over all “our” oil?’

  6. EmilianoZ

    Great article. Most interesting is the account of Russian involvement. That goes a long way explaining the rabid anti-ruski attitude of the West.

  7. different clue

    I think I remember reading in a Professor Cole Informed Comment piece once that Israel under Labor governments had done quite a bit of solar and other renewable energy research. But under Likud governments Israeli energy policy has become rather more hydrocarbon- oriented. Perhaps some lonely scientists and technicians in Israel are still doing some lonely underfunded renewable energy research somewhere.

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