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 gas field 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.
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 gas fields) 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
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.
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).
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, Laura Kandle, Lauren Mellinger, Jesse Parent and CHristopher Whyte contributed to this analysis.