Israeli-U.S. energy partnership agrees to export natural gas to Jordan

Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly referred to Israel’s occupation of “Palestinian lands” in the West Bank. The Israeli-occupied territories are disputed lands that Palestinians want for a future Palestinian state. This version has been corrected.

September 4

A U.S.-Israeli partnership of energy companies agreed to supply Jordan with natural gas from Israeli offshore gas fields, in a deal that is likely to benefit the neighbors economically and could strengthen the Jewish state’s relations with other countries that share an interest in fending off Islamist extremists.

A nonbinding letter of intent, signed Wednesday by Texas-based Noble Energy and Israel’s Delek Group — key investors in Israel’s Leviathan offshore natural gas reservoir — and Jordan’s National Electric Power spelled out a plan to supply 1.6 trillion cubic feet of gas to Jordan over the next 15 years.

Israel discovered natural gas off its northern coast in 2009 and last year started to distribute the commodity domestically. But the agreement with Jordan is its first export deal, and it would make Israel Jordan’s principal supplier of natural gas.

The deal, which would send natural gas to Jordan via overland pipes, is still dependent on final approval from the Israeli and Jordanian governments. But it is being hailed here as a historic pact that will bolster relations between Israel and neighbors worried about the regional rise of the radical Islamic State and other militant groups.

“This deal has major geopolitical implications, even more important than the vast economic benefits,” said Amit Mor, chief executive of Eco Energy, a Tel Aviv-based financial and strategic consulting firm specializing in Middle East energy. “These days, when ISIS is butchering Americans, as well as many thousands of Iraqis and Syrians in the region, this deal shows that an alliance is forming between the moderate countries in the region — Israel, Jordan, Egypt and Saudi Arabia.”

Those alliances already were strengthening over the past two months, as Israel battled Islamist Hamas militants in the Gaza Strip, he said. Israel, the United States and the European Union consider Hamas a terrorist group.

An even larger deal is under discussion between the U.S.-Israeli energy partners and companies in Egypt, a wary ally of Israel that played a key role in brokering a cease-fire last month between Israel and Hamas.

Israel and Jordan signed a peace agreement in November 1994, but in recent years, relations between the two countries have been strained because of Israel’s occupation of the West Bank — a swath of territory sandwiched between the two nations that Palestinians want for a future state — and its partial siege of the Gaza Strip, which borders Egypt.

During the past 20 years, Israel and Jordan have had some economic cooperation, mostly in trade and water supply. The transfer of gas, which probably will not begin until 2017, will be by far the biggest economic agreement between the two.

Mohammad Hamed, Jordan’s minister of energy and mineral resources, told the Jordan Times on Wednesday that the government had “allowed all Jordanian companies, whether public or private, to import gas from anywhere they want and think is feasible. This agreement between the power company and Noble Energy is part of the government’s interest to help institutions address challenges they face due to rising energy costs.”

Israel’s minister of energy and water, Silvan Shalom, said the deal would lift Israel’s regional standing as a “central source of energy.”

The Israeli financial newspaper Globes reported that the State Department had supported the deal and that Amos Hochstein, Secretary of State John F. Kerry’s special envoy for international energy affairs, was in Jordan for the signing ceremony.

Ruth Eglash is a reporter for The Washington Post based in Jerusalem. She was formerly a reporter and senior editor at the Jerusalem Post and freelanced for international media.
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