Sinai gunmen said to attack Egypt-Israel pipe; Israel says gas flow unhindered

‘The gas is reaching Egypt,’ Jerusalem’s energy ministry says, after Arab media report attack near northern Sinai coastal town of Bir El Abd

Illustrative: A gas pipeline in the Sinai Peninsula sabotaged by a jihadist group in 2012. (AP/File)
Illustrative: A gas pipeline in the Sinai Peninsula sabotaged by a jihadist group in 2012. (AP/File)

Israeli officials denied on Sunday Arab media reports that claimed unknown gunmen had attacked and damaged a pipeline in northern Sinai that carries Israeli natural gas to Egypt.

The attack was said to have taken place east of the coastal town of Bir El Abd.

But a statement from the office of Israel’s energy minister, Yuval Steinitz, read: “At the moment, the natural gas is flowing from Israel through the pipeline and reaching Egypt.”

The statement did not explicitly rule out an explosion. “The ministry looked into the reported explosion, such as it was, in coordination with all relevant authorities,” the statement said.

Another statement from the corporate partners operating Israel’s Leviathan gas field, which supplies the gas to the pipeline in question, issued a statement late Sunday saying “there has not been any damage to the EMG pipeline connecting Israel and Egypt. The flow of gas from Leviathan to Egypt is continuing as normal.”

An undated photo of Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz R) and Egyptian Petroleum Minister Tarek El-Molla speaking during a meeting of the Eastern Mediterranean Gas Forum, in Cairo, Egypt. (Israeli Energy Ministry/courtesy)

The companies include Israel’s Delek Drilling and the US firm Noble Energy.

The reports of the sabotage come just two weeks after Israel started pumping natural gas to Egypt from two massive offshore fields, marking a major milestone and a historic cooperation between the countries, according to a joint January 15 statement by the two countries’ governments.

Steinitz hailed the move at the time as “the most significant cooperation ever between Israel and Egypt, in energy and the economy, since the [1979] peace treaty.”

The gas pipelines running through the Sinai Peninsula have long been a favorite target of jihadist groups in the restive region.

Dozens of attacks took place in the wake of the overthrow of dictator Hosni Mubarak in 2011, mostly targeting a pipeline carrying gas from Egypt to Israel.

A 2014 bombing of a gas pipeline south of el-Arish by suspected al-Qaeda-inspired saboteurs sabotaged another pipeline — but it was carrying gas to Jordan, not Israel.

The Leviathan natural gas platform off the shore of Israel. (Albatross)

Israel later stopped importing gas from Egypt, partly due to soaring demands in Egypt and partly because the attacks made the supply unreliable. And Israel’s discovery of massive natural gas reserves in its Mediterranean economic zone made imports unnecessary, turning the Jewish state into an energy exporter for the first time in its history.

The Leviathan field, discovered in 2010, is estimated to hold 535 billion cubic meters (18.9 trillion cubic feet) of natural gas, along with 34.1 million barrels of condensate. The Tamar field, which began production in 2013, has estimated reserves of up to 238 billion cubic meters (8.4 trillion cubic feet).

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