Binyamin Netanyahu at the Supreme Court
Binyamin Netanyahu at the Supreme Court Gili Yohanan

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu made the unusual move on Sunday of taking part in a Supreme Court hearing, to defend his controversial gas deal framework against various petitions.

The deal between the Israeli government and a consortium, including US firm Noble Energy, has been criticized by those who say it overly favors the companies involved. It would bring about the development of the Leviathan gas field in the Mediterranean, described as one of the biggest recent natural gas discoveries.

In the Supreme Court hearing deputy president Judge Elyakim Rubinstein presided, together with four other judges.

Netanyahu told the judges that the current time window is critical, and that approving the gas deal now over the objections of anti-trust groups would not only provide a benefit to Israel's economy, but also to national security and Israel's position in the Middle East, as it would enable the Jewish state to sell gas.

He added that he is highly concerned over the impact any additional delay in implementing the deal may have.

The prime minister went on to argue that if the state of Israel does not begin to export gas, potential clients worldwide such as Cyprus and Greece will instead buy natural gas from enemies of Israel.

Development of the Leviathan gas field is a necessity for the energy security of the state, he emphasized. The Tamar and Leviathan fields were discovered in 2009 and 2010.

Before the hearing began, protesters outside the court tried to enter the hall, but security prevented them from interrupting the proceedings.

Israel's monopolies commission opposed an initial gas agreement between the government, Noble and its Israeli partner Delek, leading to months of further negotiations under strong political pressure. Netanyahu signed a new deal on December 17, with the companies having agreed to sell some of their other assets as part of the accord.

To sidestep anti-trust objections, Netanyahu used an obscure clause allowing the deal to be pushed through by the economy minister - a portfolio he now holds. Previous Economy Minister Aryeh Deri (Shas) resigned in November after refusing to overrule the anti-trust authorities and has since been named interior minister, a post he previously abused and spent time in jail on corruption charges.