The ‘Great Game’ in the Levant

Al-Monitor: With billions of cubic meters in estimated gas reserves, the Eastern Mediterranean, or the “Levant Basin” by another name, is turning into the stage for a contemporary version of the 19th Century “Great Game,” which has as much potential for catalyzing peace, as it does for contributing to new tensions in a region already rife with conflict.

The key event this respect came on March 30, the historic date when natural gas from the Tamar field, off the coast of Israel, started flowing to the Israeli mainland, thus kicking off a process that will not only make the Jewish state largely energy independent, but also turn it into a key supplier for European markets.

The Tamar field, discovered as recently as 2009, is said to hold 250 billion cubic meters [427 billion square feet] of gas, and is the smaller of Israel’s two offshore fields, the bigger one being the Leviathan field with its estimated 425 billion cubic meters of gas, but which has yet to be developed.

Texas-based Noble Energy and the Israeli Delek Energy, the two largest shareholders in the Israel gas fields are said to be looking for a go-ahead now from the Israel government to export the larger portion of the gas, since demand in Israel is insufficient to cover the cost of developing the Leviathan field.

This is the point at which Turkey, which has already become an important energy hub for Caspian and Iraqi oil, and which consolidated its position further through recent energy deals with the Kurdistan Regional Government in northern Iraq, enters the “Game” as a major player. Turkey is clearly a country that Israel cannot overlook while trying to work out the most profitable route to export its gas.

With one of the fastest growing economies in the world, Turkey has increasing energy needs and therefore also provides a stable market for Israel gas. It is not surprising therefore that there is a lot of talk in diplomatic circles suggesting that “the energy factor” also contributed to Israel’s recent apology to Turkey for its deadly raid on the Turkish Mavi Marmara aid ship in 2010. [Continue reading…]

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