Al-Sisi Defends the Gas Deal with Israel

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi (R) speaks with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (L) during their meeting as part of an effort to revive the Middle East peace process ahead of the United Nations General Assembly in New York, U.S., September 19, 2017 in this handout picture courtesy of the Egyptian Presidency. The Egyptian Presidency/Handout via REUTERS

Egypt’s al-Sisi defends the gas deal with Israel saying that to import gas from Israel will help make Egypt a regional hub for natural gas, defending a deal that has sparked controversy at home.

“We have scored a goal! “Al-Sisi said to applause during the televised opening of an investment assistance center. “I’ve been dreaming about it for four years, that we become a regional hub for energy. ”

He also said Mediterranean countries that discovered gas – whether Greek Cyprus, Lebanon or Israel – had the choice of getting it processed either in Turkey, the countries that own the field, or Egypt.

“We have the facilities to process the gas which are not found in many countries in the eastern Mediterranean region or at least in the countries where the gas fields were discovered,” al-Sisi said.

On Monday, Israeli gas company Delek Drilling announced a deal to export approximately 15 billion dollars’ worth of natural gas to Egypt.

The deal, which was praised by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Delek as “historic,” sparked outrage among Egyptians who were promised by Sisi’s government that Egypt would achieve self-sufficiency in gas after the offshore Zohr gas field started production late last year.

“We have nothing to hide. The government is not a party to the deal of importing gas from Israel. It was done by the private sector,” Sisi said during the inauguration of a center to serve investors in southern Egypt.

He added that the government allows the private sector to import and process gas using these facilities in return for money.

Analysts believe that this agreement opposes the promise of Egypt’s al-Sisi that the country will achieve self-sufficiency of gas.

Two weeks ago, the newspapers celebrated after Al-Sisi opened the very large Zohr gas field and announced the news that Egypt will achieve gas self-sufficiency this year by means of the Zohr, North Alexandria, Nawras, and Atoll gas fields.

Egyptian citizens lived this dream until they awoke on the shocking news where Netanyahu is announcing that Israel is celebrating after signing a historical agreement with Egypt that stipulates Egypt will import gas from Israel for 10 years.

Egypt and Israel have strengthened security co-operation since president Abdel Fattah al-Sisi took power in 2013 military coup that overthrew Egypt’s first democratic elected president.

The two government have a common interest in defeating ISIS militants operating in the north of Egypt’s Sinai peninsula near the border with Gaza and Israel.

But many Egyptians still view Israel as an enemy and although one Egyptian official insisted to local media that the gas deal was a commercial rather than political agreement, it is likely to be unpopular with Egyptian public opinion

Egyptians will view the imported gas agreement that worth $15 billion as an explicit economic normalization with Israel that will probably benefit from the deal with billions added to its treasury in order to be spent on education, health services, and welfare for Israeli citizens.

Moreover, it was no coincidence that Netanyahu announced this great news to the Israeli people on the anniversary of President Anwar Sadat’s visit to Jerusalem, as such an agreement poses a new victory for Israel, no less significant than its victory in 1967 and the signing of the peace treaty.

For the Israelis,the deal marks an economic victory that can’t be denied as”They are crowning their victories with this latest victory, as a result of which they control energy in Egypt and the key to the energy tap is placed in their hands. They can turn it off whenever they please. Whoever controls the energy can suffocate the states that live under its mercy and can control the decisions of these states,”said Middle East Monitor.

It also added, “This is a major crime committed against Egypt as a state and against its people. This gas is actually Egyptian gas that was seized by Israel either without the ruling government’s knowledge or in collusion with it.”

Instead of criticizing the deal, the government’s mouthpieces and state media came up with justifications and excuses which was considered as shameless than the act itself.

Some examples include but are not limited to the claims that the government has nothing to do with the Israeli gas import deal, overlooking the fact that the government facilitated the deal and prepared a draft bill allowing the private sector to import gas from abroad and sell it in the local market.

Moreover, the parliament, which is pro-government desires, approved the bill and was signed under its watchful eyes. It is worth to mention that such claims when everyone knows that no private company can import anything without first obtaining government approval.

In the same context, where would an unnamed company that has never operated in this field before, come up with $15 billion from to pay the Israelis?

“The most absurd justification is the claim that Egypt is seeking to turn into a regional center for energy and that the gas market has become available and open to any private company, “according to Middle East Monitor.

It said, “No one bothered to mention what happened to the natural gas self-sufficiency claims made two weeks ago and ask why Egypt is importing gas when it has one of the largest gas fields, the Zohr gas field, in addition to the fields discovered in Egyptian regional waters and in the western and eastern deserts.”

In fact, mouthpieces failed to mention why Egypt is importing gas specifically from Israel, especially since there are several alternatives, such as Algerian, Iraqi or Russian gas.

According to Jack Kennedy, senior analyst at IHS Markit, an energy research organisation, “Certainly there are political sensitivities around it,”But with the trends we have been seeing in recent years between Israel, Egypt and Saudi Arabia on security co-operation which has been increasing year after year, I wouldn’t be surprised to see more such deals in the future.”