Israel’s Natural Gas Facilities Defense Faulted as Threats Grow

Israel is inadequately prepared to defend its offshore natural gas installations, a government supervisory body said today, even as military officials warn that the strategic assets face growing threats.

The State Comptroller’s Office said it examined plans to defend the facilities and found they were “incomplete, and thus posed a risk.” Without publicly detailing the lapses, the report faults the government for delays in assigning responsibility for a comprehensive strategy.

Gas discoveries off Israel’s Mediterranean coast in the past four years will make it self-sufficient for decades, while leaving enough gas for export. The fields have also sparked a maritime border dispute with Lebanon, and spurred threats from that country’s Hezbollah militia group, which is considered a terrorist organization by Israel and the U.S.

The Israeli navy last week seized a ship it alleged had been sent from Iran carrying rockets intended for Palestinian militants in the Gaza Strip, which would have given them “the means to threaten millions of Israeli citizens, as well as strategic locations such as Jerusalem, Tel-Aviv and Israel’s coastal gas fields,” the army said. Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif called the allegation a “failed” lie.

The Comptroller’s report also criticizes the use of private guards hired by energy companies to provide security on company-owned drilling rigs and barges. Many of the guards are reservists likely to be called up for service elsewhere during an emergency military situation.

Seeking More Vessels

The Defense Ministry responded that it “has been working to procure naval vessels and other means in the shortest possible time frame,” according to an e-mailed statement.

Israel has an estimated 40 trillion cubic feet of discovered gas reserves, contained largely in two fields called Tamar and Leviathan. Primary investors in the gas sites include Noble Energy Ltd., Delek Drilling, Avner Oil Exploration LLP and Ratio Oil Exploration LP.

A senior Israeli naval commander, interviewed last week prior to the report’s public release, said he was confident the military was able to protect the installations from all threats.

The commander, speaking anonymously in accordance with Israeli military protocol, said both the Syria and Hezbollah have been boosting their coastal forces. At the same time, he said, Israel has been expanding its navy, the commander said.

He pointed to last year’s acquisition of a German-made Dolphin submarine, the fifth in Israel’s fleet, with a sixth currently on order. He said foreign investors were reassured by the fact that security arrangements allowed work on a pipeline connecting the Tamar field to the mainland to continue even during Israel’s military operation against Palestinian militants in Gaza in November, 2012.

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