When Israel's gas becomes Egypt's solution

When Israel's gas becomes Egypt's solution
6 min read
12 Sep, 2023
Israel is increasing its gas exports to Egypt by 30% to help solve its blackouts crisis. Omar Samir questions Egypt putting itself in a position of increasing dependency & debt, when it has its own energy resources.
On 27 July 2023 Egyptian PM Mostafa Madbouli announced a series of measures, including planned power cuts, to cut down on energy consumption as the country and wider region faces a brutal heat wave [Khaled Desouki/AFP via Getty]

When the electricity black-out crisis in Egypt reached a climax in recent weeks, Israeli, as well as regional and international press, stated that using Israel's gas was the 'modern' logical solution.

But why did talk of the massive and unprecedented gas discoveries which would bring record breaking exports, and provide Egypt with an answer to its dollars-crisis disappear? And why has the suggestion that Egypt could even benefit from the Russia-Ukraine war, given how important the country's energy exports would now be to Europe, also been absent from these discussions? 

Protesting the electricity crisis - which the Egyptian government is addressing by implementing daily power cutbacks nationwide at semi-regular intervals - a young girl appeared in Suez, carrying a placard which read: "Has Egypt's gas gone to Israel?"

"When the electricity black-out crisis in Egypt reached a climax in recent weeks, Israel and the regional and international press started talking about using Israeli gas being a modern, realistic and logical solution to the crisis"

The shocking reality, which this girl and many Egyptians are perhaps unaware of, is that the exact opposite is the case. Moreover, in recent weeks, the settler colonial government has increased its gas exports to Egypt by 30%.

In recent years, when there was a lot of talk about Damietta's liquified natural gas (LNG) plants being ramped up to operate at maximum capacity, and about Egypt's "new gas discoveries", some touted this as a resounding success. They ignored those warning that the gas being re-exported was Israeli gas (rather than gas from Egypt's fields) and that the original purpose of the Egypt-Israel gas deals was never about liquifying gas for re-export but for domestic use.

That is, to foster Egyptian dependence on Israeli gas – similar to what Israel did with Jordan.  

Local economy and planning experts have said that when countries like Egypt export their energy resources, this is a sign of failure, and shouldn't be a source of pride. They say primary raw materials could either be harnessed for domestic manufacturing, or preserved for future generations so that they aren't left with debts or a lack of cheap or clean energy sources [a reference both to Egypt's planned export of green energy to Europe in addition to its export of cleaner natural gas to Europe while using heavier and dirtier fuels domestically in recent years - translator's note].

Furthermore, Israel is in no way naïve when it comes to these billion-dollar gas deals with Egypt: its leaders and strategists certainly know the importance of creating dependency in its neighbours. It did this with the Palestinian Authority, Jordan, and is now doing so with Lebanon and Egypt. But dependency in itself isn't the sole goal – it is also considered the most effective route to normalisation.

When we are reliant on Israeli gas for lighting and cooking, Israel's military spokesman, Avichay Adraee will come to us and say: "Wait! Before you criticise Israel, remember - it's the one who saved you from the blistering heatwaves, and one in every three houses at least, is lit using electricity generated from Israeli gas, and one in every two gas stoves runs on Israeli gas."

When this happens no one will be able to respond, and the silence will haunt us.

The major problem is that most of the companies operating in the energy sector in Egypt - especially in the import and export of gas with Israel - are owned by sovereign entities, or by former generals from these entities who have become businessmen.

This itself raises other questions, like: To what extent are Egyptian officials aware of the dangers they are exposing Egypt's national security to with agreements like these?

Moreover, if previous deals, made between members of Hosni Mubarak's regime and Israel, were as unfair as the Egyptian courts themselves proved after the revolution, why are we repeating history with even more deeply corrupt deals?  

Does Israel hold secret files on these generals, for example? Or are they acting according to how they view the "national interest"? But which national interest could possibly be fulfilled according to these deals?

The situation also begs the question - why hasn't a single agency attempted to harness the revolutionary context to build on the findings which proved that Egypt owns the most important of the Israeli gas fields, Tamar and Leviathan, and that they are actually closer to Egypt's economic zone than Israel's?

Why didn't Egypt ally itself with Lebanon, Palestine and Syria, and coordinate with Turkey, to lead an Arab front to wrest the Arab rights to the gas of the East Mediterranean, instead of integrating itself into illusory projects with Israel, Cyprus and Greece?

What national interest is being served by being part of this bloc in the East Mediterranean? Now Egypt has become a gas importer, drilling companies aren't even maintaining the fields, and it doesn't appear that they are even cooperating to implement the exploration contracts signed, which to begin with were extremely unfair to the Egyptian state.

These types of questions were allowed in Mubarak's era and even reached parliament, the courts, universities, and media offices - so why are they not being raised today?

The fight to stop Egypt exporting gas to Israel was a major concern during Egypt's revolution. Lawsuits were filed against Mubarak's regime regarding the gas deals that existed - which had secured Egyptian gas for Israel at prices well below market value - and Egypt's judiciary played a positive role [in calling for accountability] at this time.

Attacks on the gas pipeline connecting Jordan and Israel in Sinai around this time were attributed to armed groups in the area - although the Military Council may have colluded.

Whatever the source of the attacks, Israel was keen to internationalise the issue, and sued Egypt, using loopholes in the bilateral investment deals struck with the Mubarak regime which gave priority to international arbitration courts over local ones.

"In short, Israel imported Egyptian gas from 2009 to 2014 at below market rates, and today it exports it to Egypt at above market rates"

Through this arbitration and mutual consent with the current regime, Israel not only obtained lavish compensation, but was able to forge a new agreement - to export Israeli gas [from the newly discovered Israeli fields] to Egypt at the rates it wanted, which were suspected to be higher than market prices.

In short, Israel imported Egyptian gas from 2009 to 2014 at below market rates, and today it exports it to Egypt at above market rates.

Additionally, those striking these deals with them are companies affiliated exclusively with Egyptian intelligence.

Everyone has been aware of the extent of Egyptian-Israeli security coordinations on multiple issues since 2014. It includes action regarding the armed groups in Sinai, as well as high-up regional and international coordination to improve the Egyptian regime's image in US and Western circles, and even mediation offers on the issue of the Ethiopian dam.

However, for Israel to enter Egyptian homes in this crude manner, and to declare that one in every four gas stoves in Egypt runs on Israeli gas – this goes beyond even what the founders of the occupying state could have hoped for, and what the Egyptians themselves ever expected.

Questions remain over the nature of this subjugation and dependency, and whether Egyptians should stand up and challenge it, or work within this status quo.

This is an edited translation from our Arabic edition. To read the original article click here. 

Omar Samir is an Egyptian writer, political researcher and member of the Arab Forum for Alternatives (AFA). Writes for Al-Araby Al-Jadeed, The New Arab's Arabic-language sister edition.

Have questions or comments? Email us at editorial-english@alaraby.co.uk

Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab.