A new alliance between Jordan and Israel, sparked by a secret agreement, could bring the two countries even closer.
Israel and Jordan have had a peace treaty for almost 20 years. Recent reports show secret talks between the two countries could strengthen the existing alliance, but what they’re discussing would be geopolitically advantageous for many, including the United States: a natural gas pipeline from Israel to Jordan.
Israel has the upperhand in this case who, historically relying on the Arab world for most of its energy needs, is now on track to become both a regional and international natural gas exporter for the first time. “By selling Jordan—and Syria and Lebanon through Jordan—natural gas, Israel could ensure that its neighbors gain a regular, reliable power supply,” reported The Jerusalem Post.
The Tamar and Leviathan natural gas fields were discovered off Israel’s coast in 2009 and 2010, respectively. The fields’ existence was hailed as a coup for the resource-poor country relying on imports. Now that natural gas is flowing from Tamar, with Leviathan scheduled to come online in the next few years, there is more than enough supply to satisfy domestic demand.
So, what does Israel do now?
Abdullah Hanging in the Balance
Jordan used to receive its gas via a pipeline from Egypt, but saw that supply cut off when militant Islamists repeatedly attacked the infrastructure after the fall of President Hosni Mubarak in 2011. Since then, Jordanians have been forced to use more expensive fuels.
Jordanian monarch King Abdullah increased government subsidies by $1.6 billion to quell the political tensions and public demonstrations resulting from the lack of cheap fuel. He is desperate for an energy source that does not undermine the monarchy’s political power and destabilize Jordan. Direct secret talks with Israel are a sure sign of just how nervous he is.
Such an arrangement, though, would be politically contentious for Abdullah since the peace treaty with Israel is not exactly popular at home.
Stability in Jordan is of strategic significance to Israel because of its status as Israel’s strongest—and some would argue only—Middle East ally. But it is also a priority for Washington, which is now more invested than ever in maintaining the status quo so Jordan does not become another Egypt. This means establishing a source of inexpensive fuel to keep the Jordanian masses out of the streets while decreasing government costs.
First Come, First Serve
Different interests make the decision-making process complicated. Israel and the international gas companies by no means hold completely opposite views, but their positions are not perfectly aligned, either.
For the Israeli government, there’s the issue of which geopolitical priority to take care of first. A pipeline to Turkey could provide outstanding domestic needs. It would also boost Israel’s standing in the European Union as an economic partner. On the other hand, Palestinians and Jordanians are in dire need of cheap fuel sources to prevent political-economic collapse.
Robust advocacy for a pipeline to Jordan is a particularly smart move for the U.S. because it is likely to preserve the status quo, whereas pipelines to Egypt, Turkey, or the Palestinian Authority would not necessarily change Israel’s geopolitical situation.
As Shaffer has repeatedly stressed, “Countries don’t get closer because of the incentive of oil and gas.” Israel should not expect sharing gas with its neighbors to create a “peace pipeline.”
What private companies want is an entirely different matter. Pipelines are relatively cheap to construct, and companies with large stakes in both Tamar and Leviathan are in advanced talks with companies “negotiating with various officials.”
The American preference for this option not only aims to encourage internal Jordanian stability and maintain King Abdullah’s government, but also seeks to reinforce the bond between two of its closest regional allies.
However, there is no clear frontrunner in Israel’s great export debate, and no timeline for a final decision. Until then, all the United States can do is continue to lobby the Israeli government and natural gas consortiums for the outcome it desires.