MK Moshe Gafni
MK Moshe GafniIsrael news photo: Flash 90

The natural gas deposits off Israel's coasts are gifts from G-d to the people of Israel, and they belong to all Israelis – not just to the “tycoons” who funded the search for them, said MK Moshe Gafni (UTJ) Thursday.

At a special Knesset session discussing the implications of a decision last week by the state regulator to demand that the companies holding the license for development of the Tamar and Leviathan oil fields allow competitors to develop parts of the fields, Gafni said that the companies, Noble Energy and Delek Drilling, didn't deserve any special treatment. “They have for years been hounding me because of my views and actions,” he said.

“Already in 2004, when as chairman of the Knesset Finance Committee I legislated the Mediterranean Coast Law,” which prevents over-building on Israel's coast, “the big builders began a campaign to pressure me to back down and let them develop as they wished.” The pressure grew significantly later on, when Gafni pushed for and approved the findings of the Sheshinski Committee, which recommended reducing the percentage of the sums the gas field developers could get from the sale of gas.

That pressure, said Gafni, included all forms of intimidation available to the companies. “It is hard to describe it,” he told MKs. “They went to our rabbis, they went to Rabbi Shlomo Yosef Elyashiv,” the now-passed leader of the Lithuanian Yeshiva community that Gafni's Degel Hatorah faction represents, “demanding that he force me to back down. They told him that I had violated deals and promises, and that I was even responsible for harming Israel's relationship with the United States.”

What they did to him, Gafni said, they are now doing to MKs, pressuring them heavily (in ways applicable to them, of course) to force the regulator to back down from breaking up their monopoly. “They have no qualms about using any and all tactics, including scare tactics, to warn MKs off from ensuring that all Israelis enjoy the benefit of the country's gas discoveries.”

Israel's Antitrust Authority last month ruled that US giant Noble Energy and its Israeli partner Delek would not be able to continue holding offshore gas field Leviathan over monopoly concerns. The decision effectively dismantles the monopoly held by Noble and Delek over Leviathan and Israel's smaller offshore gas findings.

"The entry of Delek and Noble into Leviathan created a situation in which these groups control all the gas reserves off Israel's coasts," the Antitrust Authority said in a statement. The authority said it would consider defining the two firms' Leviathan partnership as a "cartel." 

The size of the Leviathan field is estimated at 18.9 trillion cubic feet (535 billion cubic meters) of natural gas, along with 34.1 million barrels of condensate, making it the largest gas deposit found in the world in a decade. Noble and Delek also control the Tamar field, which holds 250 bcm of natural gas, and lies 80 kilometers (43 nautical miles) west of the northern Israeli port city of Haifa.

The authority had initially proposed an agreement under which Noble and Delek would enter Leviathan on condition they sell two smaller offshore gas fields to enable competition, which was to have been submitted to court within two weeks.