Hundreds protest in Tel Aviv against natural gas deal
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Hundreds protest in Tel Aviv against natural gas deal

Demonstrations against US-Israel energy conglomerate to exploit offshore reserves also held in Jerusalem, Beersheba

Israelis protest in Tel Aviv on July 4, 2015 against a plan to allow America'’s Noble Energy and Israel'’s Delek Group access to Israel’'s Tamar and Leviathan offshore natural gas reserves. (Tomer Neugberg/Flash90)
Israelis protest in Tel Aviv on July 4, 2015 against a plan to allow America'’s Noble Energy and Israel'’s Delek Group access to Israel’'s Tamar and Leviathan offshore natural gas reserves. (Tomer Neugberg/Flash90)

Hundreds of protesters gathered in Tel Aviv Saturday evening to demonstrate against the terms of a proposed natural gas deal the Netanyahu government is trying to push forward.

Shouting “the gas belongs to the public,” protesters marched from Habima Square to the government complex on Kaplan street.

Smaller protests were also held in Beersheba, Jerusalem and Kiryat Shmona.

Last week, a similar protest attended by thousands in Tel Aviv saw some violence with police. At least four were arrested after a crowd of people blocked a main intersection in the city after midnight. Small fights also broke out between police and protesters, according to Israel Radio.

Opposition against the emerging deal between the government and a US-Israeli energy conglomerate entrusted to develop Israel’s natural gas reserves has been mounting over the past several weeks.

Opponents of the gas deal awarding America’s Noble Energy and Israel’s Delek Group access to Israel’s Tamar and Leviathan offshore reserves say it amounts to “robbery” of Israel’s natural resources and are urging government transparency on the agreement.

Noble-Delek also owns two smaller reserves discovered recently. Last year the partnership was branded a de facto monopoly by Israel’s Antitrust Commissioner David Gilo, who announced his resignation six weeks ago over the issue.

On Sunday, the cabinet decided to overrule a call from the country’s regulatory agency calling to limit the dominance of the companies in the industry. But on Monday night, a parliamentary vote was postponed indefinitely after Netanyahu failed to cobble together a Knesset majority to pass the legislation.

The firms have been selling gas to the Israeli market from the Tamar field, which went online in 2013, and have agreed to sell to neighboring countries as well. The Leviathan field, the largest gas field in the Mediterranean, has not yet been developed.

Under the deal, Delek must sell its entire share of Tamar, and Noble Energy must sell most of its holdings within six years. Delek must sell its holdings in two smaller gas fields within 14 months.

The forced sales are aimed at opening the industry to competitors. The deal also sets a price ceiling for future sales to Israeli companies and commits the gas firms to complete the development of the Leviathan gas field by 2019.

But critics say the deal might in fact strengthen the gas monopoly, because the companies will maintain a de facto monopoly over the Tamar field for the next six years before entering a similar partnership to develop the Leviathan field.

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