Israeli natural gas fields
Israeli natural gas fieldsIsrael news photo: courtesy of Delek

Israel began drilling in the Tamar natural gas field on Monday despite threats from the Turkish government and the presence of Turkish destroyers nearby.

"Drilling will be carried out in partnership with the Turkish navy," Israel's minister of National Infrastructure, Uzi Landau, quipped to Israel's Hebrew-language Maariv. "There is no turning back."

Last week Eilat-Ashkelon Pipeline Company (EAPC) chairman Amos Yaron blasted Landau saying an inability to make decisions was delaying development of the Tamar gas field until 2013.

The move comes as officials in Israel and Cyprus negotiate terms for exploratory drilling in "Block 12," which lies in a section of the Tamar field that extends into Cyprus' territorial waters.

Energy analyst Amir Foster told Israel's Channel 2 the deal between Jerusalem and Nicosia will likely be finalized in the coming weeks, but noted drilling in Block 12 was purely exploratory and held no guarantees.

Turkey, amid a diplomatic row with Jerusalem manufactured in Ankara, has threatened to interdict drilling by Israel in Cypriot waters irrespective of Nicosia's wishes. Turkey continues to lay a widely rejected territorial claim to parts of Cyprus.

The Tamar gas drilling platform where drilling began Monday is located approximately 35 kilometers north of the Leviathan drilling platform. It is a joint venture of Houston's Noble Energy Inc., which holds a 36% stake, and a consortium of Israel's Avner Oil and Gas Exploration Ltd., Delek Drilling Ltd., and Isramco Negev 2 Ltd. Partnership, who own the remaining shares.

The drilling at the Tamar platform, which will be done in stages, is expected to take about one year with Tamar expeted to begin producing natural gas by the end of 2012, the Noble website said.

The field is estimated to contain up to 9 trillion cubic feet of natural gas.