Egyptian Officials: Pipeline Explosion was Terrorism
Egypt on Thursday released new details on the explosion that, for the seventh time this year, shut down the Egyptian pipeline which provides gas to Israel and Jordan. Officials said that terrorists planted an explosive device under the pipeline, setting off the explosion from a distance, probably by cellphone.
The terrorists dug a hole in the ground under the pipeline installation two meters (six feet) deep, in order to reach the pipe itself, which is buried underground. They were not detected, and had been working for several hours, officials said. The explosion occurred 40 kilometers (25 miles) west of the town of el-Arish in the north of the Sinai Peninsula, a relatively isolated area.
The pipeline caught fire after the explosion, which took place around 2:00 AM Thursday morning. A large fire began burning, and it was brought under control only on Thursday afternoon.
Egypt had said that it was to begin installing hi-tech surveillance and detection equipment all along the length of the pipeline this week. However, the equipment was not installed in time to prevent the latest bombing – and as a result, the flow of gas from Sinai to Israel and Jordan has been halted again, just two weeks after the pipeline was repaired from a previous attack over the summer. The last outage stopped the flow of Sinai gas to Israel for over 100 days. Officials Thursday said they could not give a date on when the gas would begin to flow again.
The terrorists' identity was not known, officials said, but they are suspected to be either rebel Bedouin groups, who have in the past blown up the pipeline, or possibly Gaza Arabs.
Egypt said Thursday that its direct losses due to explosions on the pipeline this year have been over $80 million. That figure did not include the money Egypt earned from selling gas to Israel and Jordan. A source in Amman said Thursday that Jordan could no longer afford the Egyptian outages, and that the economy was losing some $2 million a day due to the stoppages. Jordan, the official said, has been slowly cutting its dependence on Egyptian gas, and has begun buying more oil and and diesel fuel for use in power plants, even thought it is more expensive than Sinai gas. Until this year, Jordan used Egyptian gas to generate 80 percent of its electricity.
Israel, for its part, is less dependent on Egyptian gas – using it to generate 40% of the country's electrical use. Eventually, Israel will have locally-developed alternatives to Egyptian gas, as the fields off Israel's coast are developed, but for now, Israel has been forced to replace the imports from Sinai with purchases on the spot market, which are more expensive. Last August, the Israel Electric Company hiked electricity prices by nearly 10%, claiming that costs had risen because Egyptian gas was not reaching Israel.