Israel Plans Naval Buildup in Mediterranean

Wikistrat analyzes Israel’s plans to boost its naval presence in the Mediterranean to protect its offshore gas assets.

Israel is planning to boost its naval presence in the Mediterranean to protect its offshore natural gas industry as new fields are slated to come online.

With the Tamar natural gasfield expected to come online in 2013, the Israeli Defense Ministry is requesting a “one time budget increase” of $760 million to boost its presence and capacity in the Mediterranean to better protect Israeli natural gas platforms.

The ministry’s request also calls for the addition of four new warships and a significant increase in the number of soldiers deployed to the area. The request also calls for Israeli Air Force Shoval drones to patrol the area as well as the installation of new radar equipment on the gas platforms which are located twelve nautical miles from the Israeli coast — beyond Israel’s territorial waters but within the country’s exclusive economic zone.

This latest request to boost naval capabilities in the Mediterranean is significant, in that the navy is not typically a priority when it comes to the allocation of Israel’s military budget. The request reflects the growing concerns among Israel’s military leaders of the need to protect its goals of energy independence and new economic opportunities in the form of natural gas export deals, in light of the proliferation of illicit weapons from Libya to various militant groups in the region as well as the fear that Syria may have already provided new missiles to Hezbollah.

Analysis

As the Israeli military plans to boost its naval capabilities in the Mediterranean to protect the growing natural gas industry, talk of security threats may have the unintended effect of scaring off potential investors.

Israel’s navy has never received a significant amount of attention or funds. However, despite difficulties in doing so, it may become necessary. Supplying support for the gas platforms would strain its current resources which are needed for responsibilities such as securing and supporting the Gaza Strip blockade. The stretching of Israel’s naval resources could limit its effectiveness.

Another worry is an attack by Israel’s enemies, particularly Hezbollah, through long range missiles or civilian dress.

However, Hezbollah does not need to attack (the repercussions would unlikely be worth the risk, though Hezbollah has spoken about maritime attacks in the past) in order to damage Israel’s ability to utilize the huge amount of resources available. Again, the worry about limited security or the possibility of attack could be enough to scare off investors.

The gas platforms currently in place are privately owned (an American company, Noble Energy is working with Israel and Cyprus to tap into the gasfields) and while they are within the country’s exclusive economic zone, they are not within its territorial waters, which could cause problems. Augmenting this is the lack of a demarcated maritime border with Lebanon.

Wikistrat Bottom Lines

Opportunities

Israel’s one time investment could pay off, making operations in the Eastern Mediterranean more secure and building the infrastructure necessary to adapt to future challenges more easily.

Enhanced security could convince foreign companies to engage in new joint ventures with Israeli firms.

Risks

Increased military presence always carries higher risk of tripwire incidence. A successful naval buildup could mean greater likelihood of flashpoint incidents involving future operations of the Iranian navy in the Mediterranean.

The diversion of resources away from other priorities is itself a risk for Israel. Failure to affect this buildup successfully could be seen to have happened if the money is spent ineffectively (i.e., ceding Israel no new capabilities) or if the opportunity cost of resource diversion is seen as too high (i.e., could have more effectively helped elsewhere).

Dependencies

The effectiveness and direction of Israel’s budgetary actions and deployments.

The presence of those other factors that could lead to particular contextual modulations of the naval buildup, such as an Iranian naval incursion or increased domestic problems in the Palestinian territories.

Steven Aiello, Caitlin Barthold, Laura Kandle, Lauren Mellinger, Jesse Parent and Christopher Whyte contributed to this analysis.

Comments

  • As if Israel’s situation wasn’t complicated enough already, there’s a new offshore natural gas potential to be tapped. This will be a classic geopolitical case study, for sure…

  • Most of the so called platforms are only floating drilling rigs, which once the drilling is completed and the well heads in position,in our cases mostly some 2000 meters below sea surface,the rig moves away to other contracts.At these depths there are no platforms as it is much more economical to produce the gas via a pipeline to a landing site onshore , where the gas is treated, dehydrated odorified and distributed via a sale system.

    The wellhead ,the pipelineand the landing site will have ESD systems installed to safeguard the reservoir and the environment,so the depth of water and apropriate design makes it difficult to damage with explosives unless used by a statutory attacker. However,if the decision is to produce the gas via a floating production outfit which requires personnel on board constantly on 24/7/365 basis then there will be a need for the protection of people and equipment both from the safety and security point of view.What I’m trying to outline is that everything must be analysed by experts and hands on experienced personnel to apply the required answers to these perceived problems many of which are not.Although the water is International territory , the continental shelf is israeli and any equipment on the shelf is Israeli and all the mineral rights are ours in accordance to International laws.As for vulnerability of our assets like everything else our land assets are extremely more vulnerable. so are all the oil and gas fields of all our enemies. I have quite a lot to say on the matter as I have 40 years hands on experience in all aspects of oil and gas offshore and onshore industry , both technically and administratively. I know what I’m talking about.

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