By N. Richard Greenfield
Jewish lore has long defined Jewish misfortune as beginning when Moses took the Jewish people into the land of Canaan instead of east of the Jordan River towards the Saudi Arabian Peninsula with all of its vast oil wealth. But the two recent vast discoveries of energy in and around Israel turn this bit of jocular common knowledge upside down and not by a small margin. The finds are enormous
First there were the great natural gas discoveries off the Israeli coast. It’s estimated that the Tamar and Leviathan fields hold as much as 26 trillion SCF of natural gas. Lebanon is trying to claim part of this find by challenging her maritime borders with Israel, but even an adverse ruling wouldn’t affect the bulk of the find. Retired oil company executive Fred Leder of Westport calculates that 260 trillion cubic feet of gas equals about 4 billion barrels of oil – or an amount that would leave Israel with very little need to import energy for many years. As if that’s not enough, or as the Passover Haggadah sings out ‘Dayenu,’ the gas field, would also allow for Israel to export gas as well. But there’s more.
The Shefla Basin lies some 30 minutes south of Jerusalem on about 238 square kilometers of land. A consortium of investors – including newspaper magnate Rupert Murdoch, philanthropist and financier Lord Jacob Rothschild, former oil company executive Vice President Dick Cheney, and Howard Jonas, chairman of communications company IDT – located shale oil deposits that puts Israel into the big league category of energy players. Moses was either prescient or divinely inspired, but either way he brought the Jewish people to a place that holds oil shale potential that the World Energy Council guesses is about 250 billion barrels of oil, causing the Wall Street Journal to label Israel as “the world’s newest energy giant.” Howard Vinegar, the project’s lead engineer, feels that there is even more energy there and finds the quality of this oil to be on a par with highly sought after Saudi light crude.
Shale oil is derived via a process that extracts oil out of mineral deposits. While problematic today, the puzzle is rapidly being solved and oil is being commercially produced in the U.S., Canada and elsewhere. The debate over environmental concerns in Israel has already been joined, but the strategic value of this energy resource is irresistible and Israel will find a way to exploit it. In addition, given Israel’s significant and ongoing Silicon Valley-class achievements, there probably is no better country to take on this challenge. Israel will not only improve this technology for its own use, but will have an opportunity to build an industry around its derived capability for others to use as well.
But there is a curse here too.
Historians have spent their lives looking into the mental virus we’ve come to know as antisemitism. We don’t know why Jews are so despised and hated. Regardless, we are now in our lifetime witnessing the transfer of this age-old bias from Jews as a people to Israel as a nation. These new energy finds in Israel, besides being a blessing, provide Israel’s enemies with another more material reason to hate her.
The fact is that all of this new energy will soon be added to the world’s energy supply with the resultant downward pressure on price. As Israel comes closer to producing this new energy, markets will start to anticipate these new supplies. The sheer size of Israel’s energy deposits makes them not just marginal increases to the world’s supply, but major additions. Ironically, those countries who will be most affected by this circumstance are major names in the Jew/Israel hating industry: the Saudis, the Russians and Iran. The Saudis and Iran regularly call for Israel’s destruction and Russia’s feelings towards the Jewish state have rarely been benign. Any shortage of energy, either real or contrived, is in the interest of Russia, Saudi Arabia and Iran who benefit from higher prices. Israel’s new reserves are now a new element in this calculation.
Iran has stated many times that Israel is the primary target for its nascent nuclear weaponry. Now an energy rich Israel is not merely an object of prejudice and hate, but also provides a mercantile motive for being a target as well. We’ve noted before that a nuclear Iran threatens not only Israel, but makes much of the energy production in the Gulf, as well as our military deployments in the area, vulnerable. One would think that these new factors would cause the West to coalesce around Israel’s security interests, but it remains to be seen if Europe, for example, can overcome its bias in favor of its own self-interest.
The energy blessing for Israel is inextricably bound with the curse defined by the interests of those around her. It is indeed ironic that this tiny country of seven million has found new resources that make her a genuine financial and material superpower, while at the same time the malevolent shadow of Iran threatens her survival.
Quite a turn of events. Foreseen by few. Except maybe Moses.