Netanyahu signs clause advancing natural gas deal

Marcy Oster

JERUSALEM (JTA) — Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu approved a deal to develop a recently discovered natural gas field in the Mediterranean Sea.

Netanyahu on Thursday pressed ahead with the deal despite objections by the country’s Anti-Trust Authority, which ruled that the consortium developing the Leviathan gas field could be a monopoly. Israel’s antitrust commissioner resigned earlier this year in protest of the plan.

The plan will allow two companies, Texas-based Noble Energy and the Israeli Delek Group to retain majority control of Leviathan for 10 years after the gas begins flowing in exchange for reducing its holdings in a second large gas field, called Tamar, and two smaller fields.

In order to approve the deal, Netanyahu, who also serves as the economy minister after the resignation of Aryeh Deri over the issue, on Thursday invoked Clause 52 of the Restrictive Trade Practices Law which allows the economy minister to approve a monopoly if it is a matter of national security.

“We came today to provide gas to Israel, to the Israeli economy, to the Israeli citizens,” Netanyahu said at a signing ceremony. “The gas has been given to us as a gift from God. Found deep sea, it gives us huge gas reserves. It makes us a potential, if not an actual energy power, certainly a major international force.”

Leviathan, discovered in 2010 in the Mediterranean Sea west of Haifa, is estimated to hold 16 trillion to 18 trillion cubic feet of gas.

Thousands of Israelis have protested the deal on a regular basis and called for the gas fields to be nationalized, concerned that the gas consortium will continue to keep prices high, and agree to export much of the gas.

The opposition Zionist Union party on Thursday said it would ask Israel’s Supreme Court to void the use of Clause 52 to advance the gas deal.

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