Natural Gas Fuelling Conflict In Gaza

Introduction

Nearly 20,000 Gazans dead, including 10,000 children; 288 Palestinians killed in the West Bank; 1200 Israelis murdered, 150 held hostage by Hamas and 3 killed by IDF soldiers; ambulances blocked, hospitals destroyed, 90% going hungry in Gaza; and 1000 complaints of repression of pro-Palestinian speech in the US (Palestinelegal.org). Israel continues to blanket bomb Gaza as they try to wipe out the next generation of Palestinians. The powerless UN passes unenforceable resolutions for ceasefires as pundits babble about the rule of law governing warfare.

Hidden behind the justifications for the war on Gaza is the longstanding Zionist plan to ethnically cleanse all of Palestine and to gain control of natural gas and oil. Zionists justify the war as retribution for the October 7th killings of Israelis. Hamas portrays it as pay-back for decades of oppression. Neither side advocates unity of Palestinian and Israeli workers to establish a society that meets their mutual needs. Nothing short of an anti-racist, anti-capitalist global movement can end these conflicts.

Without United States aid, Israel cannot sustain its assaults on Palestinians. The United States, never a friend of Jewish Holocaust refugees, backs Israel with favored trade deals, military armaments, and $3.8 billion in annual aid including an additional $14 billion for this conflict. Biden and the Democratic Party even risk defeat in the 2024 elections as more young people reject US support of racist mass murder. The genocide broadcast around the world has raised interest in revolution and socialism as did the 1000s of police murders in the US in recent years.

This article presents data and analysis about rivalries over oil and gas and US imperialism that mainstream news hides securely behind the headlines.

The Back Story of 75 years of Conflict

After WWI, in 1917, Britain and France divided up the defeated Ottoman Empire into mandates with Britain taking control of Iraq, Transjordan, and Palestine, and France overseeing Syria and Lebanon. To secure the area of Palestine, the British encouraged immigration of Jewish Europeans to settle on Palestinian lands and escape the severe antisemitism they faced in Europe and Russia. The British needed a large population of immigrants to build toward creation of a Jewish state.

Competition over the production, distribution, marketing, and transport of oil, that was to dominate modern 20th and 21st Century history, soon took hold. An archeologist discovered oil in 1908 in what is now Iran . Britain created the Anglo-Persian Oil Company (APOC), and the flow of oil began in 1913. Britain and Iran clashed over who would profit from its sale, and numerous coups left the US in control. In 1938, an American oil company that became Chevron discovered oil in Saudi Arabia, transforming Saudi rulers into a political and economic power. Chevron still owns and develops gas and oil reserves in the Middle East today. An Iraq-Haifa pipeline was opened in 1935, where Iraqi oil was refined and then shipped from Haifa to Europe. The Haifa refineries supplied much of the fuel needed by the British and the Americans during World War II.

Post-war, Britain abandoned its Palestinian mandate due to violent opposition from Arabs and Zionists, turning it over to the United Nations. The UN voted to partition the territory into Jewish and Palestinian regions and created the state of Israel in 1948. The US took over as the major imperialist power. It desired control of Middle East oil and needed a “friend,” more like a cop, to counter any interference from Arab countries and the Soviet Union.

The US maintains Israel as a major political and military bully to strengthen its geopolitical position in the region and also to profit from the large new oil and natural gas fields discovered in the Mediterranean.

“Protection of that investment (in oil) and the military and economic security that it represents, inevitably will become one of the prime objectives of American foreign policy in this area, which already has become a pivot of world politics and one of the main focal points of rivalry between East and West (https://www.counterpunch.org/2023/12/11/israel-gaza-and-the-struggle-for-oil/.”

Discoveries in the East Mediterranean Sea – What’s At Stake?

Explorers have identified new oil and liquefied natural gas (LNG) in Israel beginning in 2010. They discovered over 31 billion cubic feet of gas in the Mediterranean in 2022. The Gaza Marine Gas Fields I and II under Palestinian sovereignty lie west of Haifa off the coast of Gaza, Israel and Lebanon in the eastern Mediterranean Sea known as the Levant Basin Province. They run for 83,000 square kilometers and contain 22 trillion cubic feet (TCF) of natural gas. It will cost between $20-$25 billion to develop and could attract $100 billion in investment.

The West Bank also sits on top of natural gas in the Rantis field, another site blocked by Israel for Palestinian development.

The Leviathan LNG fields lie 81 miles west of Haifa. They have 22 trillion cubic feet of usable gas and can power Israeli energy needs for 40 years.

These discoveries have transformed Israel from an oil importing country to an exporter that could sell fuel to countries that relied on Russian exports before the war in Ukraine.

And these discoveries have heightened the rivalries between Israel, Lebanon, and Palestine, and solidified alliances with Egypt, a major importer. Israel claims sole ownership of reserves that border Gaza or lie underneath Palestinian Occupied Territories. It has illegally blocked Gaza from contracts to develop its reserves that would be profitable enough to fund urgently needed social services and jobs in Gaza. Israel often promises Palestinians access to its reserves but never follows through.

Israel’s claim to ownership of Palestinian gas reserves is one factor that has led to major wars on Gaza. After Hamas won the election to rule Gaza in 2007, Israel implemented a blockade. In 2008, after a rocket attack on Siderot, Israel launched Operation Cast Lead, that killed 1400 Gazans and gave Israel control over Palestinian natural gas fields. Israel invaded again in 2014, bombed Gaza’s power company and established sovereignty over Gaza’s energy resources.

Israel also disputed the placement of pipelines. It refused to allow Gaza to build a pipeline that would deliver fuel to a processing facility in Gaza. Instead, it demanded that Israel own and operate the pipeline.

Since the 1960s, there’s been talk about constructing the Ben Gurion Canal to transport fuel from northern Gaza south to the Gulf of Aqaba, a key port on the Red Sea that could replace the Suez Canal and earn Israel large fees. Its construction is either delayed, disputed, or canceled today.

In September 2022, Palestinians from Hamas and other organizations held a demonstration, Gas for Gazans, demanding access to its energy resources, (https://www.crisisgroup.org/middle-east-north-africa/east-mediterranean-mena-turkiye/240-rethinking-gas-diplomacy-eastern).

These are several examples of Israel’s attempts to control the extremely profitable gas fields. They also add one more motive for the US to arm the Israeli government and allow the absolute destruction of Gaza. As an imperialist power, the US enables Israel to seize resources belonging to Palestine. In return, Israel maintains a friendly force in the region that can counter Iran’s Hezbollah and compete economically with Russia and China.

The UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) reported:

“Throughout history, colonization and military occupations have consistently had underlying economic consequences and motivations … have typically involved the exploitation and impoverishment of the occupied people. In its most severe form, the economic dimension of occupation entails the appropriation of the resources of the occupied people, leading to their displacement, replacement, impoverishment, and marginalization. …. “

Russia and China are the main competitors of US imperialism. Through its Belt and Road initiative, Chinese state companies have invested heavily in infrastructure projects in the Mediterranean region. Their projects include investments in port facilities and industrial sites throughout the Mediterranean. Shanghai International Port Group acquired a 25-year contract to manage the Port of Haifa, while China Harbor Engineering is building a new port terminal in Ashdod, Israel.

The struggle over energy resources, pipelines, trade, and labor has driven many countries to engage in war as we see in Ukraine, Iraq, and Yemen. It continues to dominate and destabilize global politics despite the enormous cost to human lives. While there are many reasons to destroy Palestinians and steal their property, the control of oil and gas is a significant aspect.

Conclusion

The recent discovery of fossil fuel resources in Israel’s purview now increases its importance from a protector of US interests in the region to an actual energy supplier. Now billions of dollars in real and potential wealth lie beneath the Mediterranean. The development of new pipelines to access gas fields can also increase access to markets, such as Europe. However, conflicts among the major players will determine if the US and its allies can reap these benefits as tensions grow between Israel and its neighbor in Lebanon and Iran, and the US faces growing military and economic competition from China.

Imperialism is capitalism on a global stage. Imperialists plunder resources, enslave workers, and dominate markets. Imperialism cannot be resolved with rules of law, negotiations, or any form of diplomacy; it inevitably dissolves into war. It can only be eliminated when working people throughout the world refuse to fight these wars and create a multiracial and multiethnic society that doesn’t use money, wages, or profit. We don’t need to fight over the ownership of property and resources; we need to own and run society collectively. This requires us to organize together in one party that recognizes an injury to one is an injury to all. We cannot let the capitalists tear us apart with racism and hatred.

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