Elliott Abrams

Pressure Points

Abrams gives his take on U.S. foreign policy, with special focus on the Middle East and democracy and human rights issues.

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Natural Gas Changes the Middle East

by Elliott Abrams
April 4, 2013

Last Saturday (March 30) Israel took a large step toward energy independence, as natural gas from the smaller of its newly discovered Mediterranean gas fields began to flow.

By the end of this decade Israel will not only be supplying its own needs fully, but exporting natural gas to the world market. It will be able to supply itself for at least 50 years and perhaps three times as long–reducing its energy costs, improving its environment, making the cost of production lower, and increasing prosperity and state revenues. This natural gas supply more than replaces what Israel used to receive from Egypt, but Egypt has become an unreliable supplier for Israel (and for Jordan as well).

Of course another country has in recent years begun to move from energy dependence to independence, from importer to exporter–our own. And these facts about both Israel and the United States will have lasting and significant geopolitical ramifications. Israel had already become an economic success story, the “start-up nation,” and its success will be reinforced–while around it are political and economic failures like Egypt and Syria, and energy-needy Jordan. The natural supplier of energy for Jordan and any eventual Palestinian state is Israel, a fact that would change the nature of their relationships. In a region where instability is spreading, a stable, increasingly wealthy, powerful Israel will grow in value as an American ally.

Our own relationships with Gulf oil producers like Saudi Arabia were built not on political or cultural affinity but on our dependence on their oil exports. We did not pay attention to what Saudi kings said because we thought they were wise men, but solely because their country was the world’s leading oil exporter. It is true that there is one global price for oil and it matters to us, and true that we have many allies still dependent on Gulf oil. But when we are no longer dependent, the relationship changes; it becomes less intimate, and Saudi influence in Washington must decline over the years. ¬†We will also have to rethink the way we deploy our military over the coming decades, for the need to protect oil supplies has been more important over the last 50 years than it will be in the next 50.

Much that happens in the Middle East appears far more consequential than it really is, creating headlines but no real change. The American and Israeli discoveries of vast amounts of natural gas that will allow both countries to become energy exporters is a different sort of event: more dramatic than it may at first appear, and far more significant in reshaping relationships in that region.

Post a Comment 7 Comments

  • Posted by EthanP

    I’m not optomistic about US energy independence. We have a very anti-fossil fuel administration. And the EPA needs to have it’s teeth pulled to a compliance only group.

  • Posted by Dan

    Overlooked in this post, the large oil shale finds south of Jerusalem will further enhance Israel’s self-dependence and overall strength. Fracking there is not a dirty word. On the contrary, innovative Israel will make it safer and cleaner.

  • Posted by Jim Sanders

    Mr. Abrams has introduced a topic that is sure to receive a lot more attention in the future. His blog post fits well with Seth Kelinman’s article in the April 2nd issue of the Financial Times, “Oil demand is set to fall in the age of abundant natural gas.” The substitution of natural gas for oil is already a trend, one that is visible in the U.S. with UPS, FedEx, and BNSF railway switching over to natural gas as a fuel. The substitution trend “will soon go global,” Kleinman argues. We should therefore not lose sight of the trend’s impact on Africa, especially Nigeria, long a source of light sweet crude, beloved by U.S. refiners. Abuja’s awareness of the changes afoot in markets for its primary revenue earner is growing. Already challenged by a robust insurgency in its north, the country is likely to experience more turbulence as it copes with chaning energy markets.

  • Posted by Dr.Avrington

    Firstly, there is already a “Palestinian” State called Jordan and it is absolutely repugnant that the government of Israel, and Jews world wide, lack their inherent “Jewishness” to reclaim all that is theirs, recognize the factual realities around them that Islam has never, cannot and will never afford peace with the “kufr” especially the Jew AND that every bloody time the Jews make some sort of ground shattering discover; like oil or natural gas, or invents some superior computer/military technology the first thing they do is advertise it and then give it; or sell it, to their enemies and the enemies of Western civilization…. The price of fuel; natural gas and petroleum products in general will continue to go up because the entirety are run, backed and dispensed by globalist crooks.
    Should never have given any land away from ’67 and have down played it as a very minor find and kept everything to become energy independent on lands that were geographically sound and defensible borders.

  • Posted by Neville Craig

    Let’s stay realistic about exporting natural gas from Israel.
    How much would impoverished Palestinians & Jordanians buy?

    As a 30year employee of the largest operator in the global LNG sector, long resident in the Near East, I cannot see who would finance a multi-biliion dollar export plant in the region. far too militarily risky with huge complications from the political instability.

    Another (WordPress.com) blog dated April 4 is headlined: ‘How the Cyprus-Greece-Israel energy triad is being dismantled’….

  • Posted by Andrew

    I suppose it’s premature to think about such things, but I would like to see Israel wean itself from US foreign aid at some point. It would be good for the relationship.

  • Posted by CW Johnson

    A few observations:
    1. Oil consumption will continue to increase despite the growth in natural gas flows because of improving economics in many places.
    2. Note that only 50% of oil extracted is turned into transport fuels.
    3. The US increase in oil production is on the order of 5-10% for the next decade, and the US still will import 30-40% of its required oil, an improvement of 10-20%.
    4. While fracking is working well, still it is expensive, and the wells lifespan appears to be shorter than previously.
    5. In the coming decades the rich countries will continue using less oil, but the emerging economies will grow much faster.
    Bottom Line: There Are No Easy Answers

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