Memorial Day is fast approaching, and it is already starting to make its way into the headlines. A day before Memorial Day eve, newspapers report that Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz saluted the fallen soldiers in last week’s tragedies and laid a wreath on the graves of 2nd Lt. Hila Betzaleli and Cpl. Yehoshua Hefetz. The press is reporting on the government’s decision to tone down Independence Day celebrations because of the Mount Herzl tragedy in which Betzaleli was killed.
Yedioth Ahronoth also shows a photo of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his family visiting the grave of his brother, Lt. Col. Jonathan Netanyahu, who fell in Operation Entebbe in 1976.
Maariv reports on opposition to the bestowal of posthumous medals to the 34 Israeli Prison Service cadets who were killed in the Carmel Fire in December 2010. Family members of fallen IDF soldiers denounce the government’s granting of awards because they claim there is a double standard and political motivation behind it.
Israel Hayom and Haaretz report that Israeli commandos boarded a Liberian-flagged vessel off the northern Israeli coast on Sunday on suspicion that it was carrying weapons to Gaza. The Beethoven was sailing southward towards the Gaza Strip and was halted 300 kilometers offshore. The Israeli Navy searched the ship with her captain’s permission. No weapons were found.
Out of gas
The biggest story in Monday’s papers, however, was the state-owned Egyptian Natural Gas Holding Company (EGAS) cutting off Israel’s gas supply. The provision of gas by Egypt to Israel was part of the 2005 amendment to the Egypt-Israel peace treaty. According to the agreement, EGAS sold the gas to Eastern Mediterranean Gas (EMG), a company owned in part by an Israeli company called Ampal, which exported it to Israel.
From the time gas started flowing in 2008 until the first attack on the trans-Sinai pipeline in February 2011, Egypt provided Israel with between 45% and 60% of its natural gas. The pipleline has been attacked 13 more times since then, causing regular halts in gas supply to Israel.
EMG recently sued EGAS for $8 billion dollars for not supplying it with gas as the contract demanded. EGAS boss Mohammed Shoeb told AP that it closed the tap because EMG hadn’t paid up for months. EMG called the move “a violation of the peace treaty with Israel.” Mohammed Shoeb, head of EGAS, said it was a business decision, not a political one.
Maariv cites a relative of Ampal CEO Yossi Maiman saying that Egypt’s announcement to turn off Israel’s gas is a ploy to put pressure on EMG to scrap the lawsuit against EGAS.
The Israeli government reinforced Shoeb’s statement, saying “This is part of a conflict between a private company and Egyptian government companies…This is not a conflict related whatsoever to relations between Israel and Egypt.”
Haaretz reiterates the government’s position in its headline, “Israel: Canceling the gas agreement isn’t connected to the Egyptian peace treaty.” It quotes Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz saying “it is a dangerous precedent that endangers the peace agreement and atmosphere of peace between Israel and Egypt,” but it reassures readers that “termination of the [gas] contract is not expected to have immediate consequences in the price of electricity.” Tzvi Bar’el points out that this is because the Israel Electric Corporation already raised prices 9% to accomodate for the recent lack of Egyptian gas.
Bar’el says that whether or not this was a business decision, “Egypt’s regime may find itself in the midst of a political storm” because of the deal’s end, for “neglecting the nation’s vital interests and losing its grip on the eastern peninsula.” He predicts that the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) will “instruct the Egyptian natural gas company to reconsider its decision to avoid the possibility that the cancellation of the deal will become a tool with which the opposition can criticize the regime.”
Yedioth Ahronoth says that Egyptian political sources also reassured their Israeli counterparts that the conflict isn’t connected to state relations. Contrary to Haaretz, Yedioth Ahronoth claims that the gas shortage resulting from Sunday’s termination will result in “a sharp rise in electricity prices and may bring about a power shortage during peak usage hours over the summer.”
Even the newfound gas reserves off the coast won’t be of much use, Amir Ben-David writes in Yedioth Ahronoth. ”The Tamar field’s gas will only start flowing next year, and in the meantime we have a severe shortage of natural gas, which will cost a lot of money,” he says. Even if the gas from Egypt comes back on soon, it will take time for Israeli industry and the electric company to rely on it.
Israel Hayom’s plays up the political dimension. Its headline reads “Business conflict, political concern.” It quotes MK Benjamin Ben Eliezer (Labor) saying that this development is “additional proof that there is a possibility for confrontation between Israel and Egypt” and that it “is a political one.” MK Shaul Mofaz (Kadima) is also quoted in Israel Hayom calling EGAS’s announcement a breach of the peace treaty, and demanding American intervention.
Hezi Shternlicht writes in Israel Hayom that the canceling of gas by Egypt is further proof that Israel can only rely on itself and that it has no long-term friends in the neighborhood. He advocates sending a clear message to Cairo that such impudence will not be tolerated.
Boaz Bismuth, also writing in Israel Hayom, says that every pessimistic prediction about the Arab Spring in Egypt has come true. The cancellation of gas by Egypt is the latest of many steps in the souring of Egyptian-Israeli relations. “At this rate, our southern neighbor will soon turn into an enemy state far faster than expected,” he writes.