By Jodi Sanger-Weaver
As the political environment of Egypt changes, many questions have arisen over what will happen inside Egypt as well as what will happen regionally, especially in regards to Israel. Egypt, under the Camp David Accords, was the first and only state in the Middle East to recognize Israel as a sovereign state. This recognition has, since then, balanced tensions in the region and allowed Israel some sense of security. The recent attacks on the Arish-Ashkelon pipeline, as well as the reasons behind the attacks, serve as a reminder of the many effects the changing political environment of Egypt can have on the entire region.
The Arish-Ashkelon Pipeline is a submarine pipeline that supplies natural gas from Egypt to Israel and begins in al-Arish in Egypt and ends in Ashkelon in Israel. It is a branch of the Arab Gas Pipeline which also supplies natural gas to Jordan, Lebanon and Syria. The Arab Gas Pipeline begins at al-Arish and travels to Aqaba, Jordan where it then connects to other sections that carry gas to the other countries. The total length of the Arab Gas Pipeline is 1,200 kilometers, or 750 miles, with a total cost of US$1.2 billion. The first section of the pipeline, the section that travels from al-Arish to Aqaba, was completed in July 2003 (Ya Libnan).
The Arish-Ashkelon Pipeline began operation in February 2008, with a cost estimate of US$469 million. It is owned and operated by a joint company of Israeli and Egyptian gas companies under the banner of the East Mediterranean Gas Company (EMG) (Penn Energy). The first agreements stated that Egypt would supply the Israel Electric Corporation with 1.7 billion cubic meters, or 60 billion cubic feet of natural gas each year. This amount was later increased to 2.1 billion cubic meters, or 74 billion cubic feet per year. In 2009, EMG added to the amount of gas supplied to Israel through the pipeline by signing contracts with private electricity generators, amounting to an additional 2 billion cubic meters, or 71 billion cubic feet, and making EMG the supplier of approximately 40% of Israel’s natural gas. The rest of Israel’s natural gas comes from domestic sources. The current agreements allow for this amount to increase to 7.5 billion cubic meters in the future, nearing the 9 billion cubic meter capacity of the pipeline (Shirkhani).
The large amount of gas provided to Israel from Egypt not only makes Egyptian gas important to Israel, but also makes Israel one of Egypt’s most significant export markets. There is controversy, however, over the price that has been negotiated, and many believe that former Egyptian leader, Mubarak, offered Israel a sweetheart deal well below the global market rate, and has reportedly cost Egypt US$714 million. Mubarak denied legal provisions to block the flow of gas to Israel in 2010, but now that Mubarak is no longer in power, controversy and question remains over the Mubarak era agreements and whether or not Egypt will continue to supply Israel with natural gas (JTA).
For now, the question of whether to stop the flow of natural gas is irrelevant because the pipeline has been bombed, most recently in December 2011 (the ninth bombing that year), and shut down for repairs. The pipeline has been shut down since an attack in July 2011 on the pipeline near Nagah in the Sinai Peninsula, halting the flow of natural gas to Israel as well as to Jordan. This attack, as well as the others that have occurred over the course of the past year, have been blamed on the Bedouin Islamists and a rise in jihadist activities in the Sinai Peninsula (Stratfor). Under Mubarak, the people living in this region had not benefitted from the wealth generated from the Sinai Peninsula, adding to the tensions revolving around the pipeline.
Since these attacks and the shutting down of the pipeline for repairs, the price of electricity in Israel has risen by 10%. Jordan has recently agreed to pay a higher price for the natural gas supplied by Egypt, and according to reports, it is expected that Egypt will also demand price hikes for the natural gas they supply to Israel (JTA). This situation invites questions regarding Egypt’s relationship with Israel for the future, not only concerning the supply of natural gas, but also concerning the bigger picture of diplomatic relations that, under Mubarak and the Camp David Accords, proved to be a positive relationship for Israel in the midst of many hostile states, and a balance of tensions for the entire region.
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Shirkhani, Nassir. “Egyptian Gas Flows to Israel.” Upstream Online. 10 Mar. 2008. Web. 3 Dec.
Courtesy of Flickr user Vyacheslav Argenberg.