By Allison Good
Although the Arab Spring hasn't won Israel many friends in the Middle East, Haaretz reported yesterday that its navy "recently strengthened its cooperation with the Lebanese Navy in the Mediterranean." The partnership, Israel hopes, will prevent provocations in the form of possible pro-Palestinian flotillas to Gaza on May 15, or Nakba Day, which commemorates "the displacement of Palestinians following the establishment of Israel in 1948, and on Naksa Day, which takes place in June and commemorates the displacement of Palestinians after the 1967 war."
It's no surprise that Israel would turn to regional multilateralism in order to avoid a repeat of the Gaza flotilla incident of 2010. According to the Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center, "pro-Palestinian activists from Sweden [have] announced their intent to organize another Gaza flotilla this year, saying they have already bought the ship."
Whether this friendly strategic cooperation will last, though, is an entirely different question. Israel and Lebanon may soon be engaged in nasty disputes over natural gas fields in the Levant Basin, which as Robin M. Mills reported for FP last year "spans not only Israel's offshore but also that of Lebanon, Cyprus, and Syria." In 2009, U.S. exploration company Noble Energy found Tamar, a deep-water field that holds 8.5 trillion cubic feet (Tcf) of natural gas. Noble discovered Leviathan, which has an aerial area of 125 square miles and contains a potential 20 Tcf, in early 2010. As Mills noted, the U.S. Geological Survey estimates that the entire basin "could contain 120 Tcf of gas, equivalent to almost half of U.S. reserves."
With Tamar set to come online in April 2013, and Leviathan expected to begin production by 2016, what is for now just a dispute over maritime borders could soon turn into a regional conflict over natural gas.... LOL, LOL !!!
The IDF is considering the deployment of missile interceptors on gas rigs that Israeli companies plan to construct in the eastern Mediterranean Sea in the coming years, The Jerusalem Post has learned.
Israel’s concern is that Hezbollah will try to attack the platforms with anti-ship missiles or explosives-laden vessels.
Last February, the navy seized an Iranian arms ship whose cargo, Israel said, was destined for Islamic Jihad. The vessel was carrying six Iranian Nasr-1 radarguided anti-ship missiles.
The navy has yet to decide which type of missile defense system it would deploy on the gas rigs, but the two options under consideration are David’s Sling, which Israel is developing for use against medium-range rockets and cruise missiles, as well as the Barak-8, which protects large navy vessels against anti-ship missiles.
The navy has already increased its patrols in the Mediterranean and is also using unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) to increase the range of its surveillance. It currently operates Israel Aerospace Industries’s Heron UAV, which comes with a special electro-optic payload for maritime operations.
Until now, the navy has focused on protecting Israel’s sea lines of communication (SLOC), which span the length of the Mediterranean and around the Magreb region of North Africa. Some 99 percent of all goods arriving in the country come by sea, including security-related supplies and military hardware.
“The area we will need to protect at sea will significantly increase with the construction of the new gas rigs,” a senior naval officer said.
“We are also very concerned with the military buildup in the region, which is seeing an increase in sophisticated weapons systems like anti-ship missiles.”
In addition, the navy is in talks with the Defense Ministry about the need for four new vessels to more effectively cover its new area of operations. It is seeking a larger platform than the Sa’ar 5-class corvettes it operates.
The vessel will have to accommodate an advanced radar system, a helicopter and a launch system capable of firing long-range air defense and surface-to-surface missiles.
The navy has also informed the energy companies that it will need to install radars on the gas rigs, and the government is considering ordering the companies to help finance some of the cost.
In February, the Defense Ministry and navy ordered the Israel Electric Corporation to bolster security around a natural gas buoy that is being built off the coast of Hadera. The buoy will enable Israel to import natural gas in place of Egyptian gas, which has come to a near standstill since the revolution in Egypt last year....lol.