For months, Russian President Vladimir Putin tried one tactic after another to get hold of a stake for Gazprom in Leviathan, Israel’s biggest offshore natural gas field and one of the world’s largest finds in the last decade.
It was discovered in 2010, lying some 1,500 meters (4,900 ft) deep in the Levantine basin, 130 kilometers west of Haifa.
When first drilled by Noble Energy of Texas and Israel’s Delek Group and Ratio Oil Exploration to a depth of 5,170 meters, Leviathan 1 was found to hold a deposit of an estimated 16 trillion cubic feet (450 billion cubic meters) of natural gas.
The second stage of drilling, which reached a depth of 7,200 meters, uncovered an additional 250 billion cubic meters (9 trillion cubic feet).
Struck too was an added prize: a potential 600 million barrels of oil.
Development of these finds, plus the Tamar offshore gas field, promises to make Israel energy-independent and the second largest Middle East gas exporter after Qatar.
In the event, Moscow’s efforts to acquire a stake in this rich find were blocked by Washington.
Multi-billion Russian investment plus pipelines
Last June and July, two DEBKA-Net-Weekly issues dealt at length with Putin’s bid to acquire a major share for Gazprom in the Mediterranean energy bonanza.
(Issue 547: Putin Offered to Broker Israel’s Ties with Iran and Turkey. Issue 548: Putin Buys into Mediterranean Gas by Bailing out Greece and Cyprus.)
The Russian leader offered billions in investment capital and a pipeline network that promised to make Israel one of Europe’s biggest suppliers of gas suppliers.
He enlisted two leaders to lobby for the Russian case in Jerusalem: German Chancellor Angela Merkel, a close friend and, surprisingly, Israel’s president, Shimon Peres.
President Peres spent the last six months lobbying enthusiastically for Israeli-Russian energy collaboration. It earned him an extra-warm Kremlin welcome when he visited Moscow in the first week of November. The Russian leader still believed Peres could swing a gas deal in Russia’s favor.
But the Russian ruler used cruder language with the Israeli officials standing out against it, including Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Infrastructure and Energy Minister Uzi Landau. Neither did he mince his words with the heads of Noble Energy, Inc. of Houston Texas, with whom Putin was in touch via Gazprom officials.
Putin offers insurance for gas fields against Syrian, Hizballah attacks
Indeed, he laid out what sounded like a veiled threat by asserting that only his personal guarantee, a Russian stake in the drilling platforms and the pipelines he was offering to build would preserve Israel’s gas and oil fields in the eastern Mediterranean from Syrian attack, which would be carried out with Russian-supplied Yakhont radar-guided cruise missiles.
Moscow had given Damascus those missiles as insurance against a NATO naval invasion like the Western alliance’s 2011 operation against Libya.
If Moscow were involved, Leviathan would also be safe from the Lebanese Hizballah who were capable of striking the field on the pretext that Israel was robbing Lebanon of its natural treasure. The Shiite terrorists still possess thousands of C-80 anti-ship missiles supplied by Iran.
The Russian president made the point that neither Syria nor Hizballah would dare strike any energy facility embodying a Russian interest.
Washington kept a close eye on Putin’s efforts and finally put a spanner in his works without directly involving Israel. This month, Australian Woodside Petroleum offered to buy a 30-percent share, valued up to $2.5 billion, in Israel's Leviathan natural gas field.
The Australian spanner in Putin’s plans
Woodside gained a solid background in the gas fields discovered off the northwestern Australia coast and in the liquefied natural gas (LNG) technology which enables the resource to be shipped by tanker across the globe.
The Australian company gave America the cards for trumping both Russia’s proposed investment in Leviathan and Putin’s offer to build a pipeline from the eastern Mediterranean to Europe.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s military and intelligence sources: The American move also had a military aspect.
All the gas platforms are situated outside Israel's territorial waters – 12 nautical miles from land – but lie inside Israel's “exclusive economic zone," which stretches up to 200 nautical miles from the coast.
Israel is already deep into a huge, one-billion dollar, investment in a defense system for guarding its oil and gas fields against attack. This entails setting up a special naval force equipped with new warships and manned by hundreds of servicemen. Israel Air Force “Shoval” drones will also patrol the area, and intelligence-gathering and radar equipment will be installed on the platforms.
All that would take care of the gas fields’ first layer of defense.
For the second layer, the Obama administration has agreed to place the US-Australian-Israeli gas and oil fields behind the American defensive shield which covers the Mediterranean Sea and the Middle East against missile attack.