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Are Israel at War for Gas? Oil Reserves in The Levant Basin

Natural gas reserves represent a remarkable economic advantage, with the potential to redefine a nation’s economy through energy independence, job creation, and international trade relations. In the Levant Basin, which is delineated by the borders of several Eastern Mediterranean countries, this potential is vast and yet largely untapped.

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Levant basin and gas fields. Note the abundance of gas near the Gaza Strip.

The significance of the Levant Basin was underscored by the US Geological Survey, which predicted a wealth of recoverable oil and gas. This region became a hotspot when Israel’s Tamar and Leviathan fields were discovered in the late 2000s, suggesting that the Levant Basin could be a new energy- exporting region. “The Levant Basin Province is comparable to some of the other large provinces around the world,” said a member of the US Geological Survey’s (USGS) Energy Resources Program. “Its gas resources are bigger than anything we have assessed in the United States.” [1]

Parallel to these discoveries, the Gaza Marine gas field was identified off the Gaza Strip coast in 2000. For the Palestinian economy, this field held a promise of autonomy and economic revival. However, Israel’s occupation of the strip has left Gaza Marine unexploited.

Maritime boundaries and resource claims in international law are generally governed by the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), which sets out the rights and responsibilities of nations in their use of the world’s oceans. Under UNCLOS, coastal states can exploit the natural resources within their Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ), which extends up to 200 nautical miles (230 miles) from their shoreline. Being only 22 miles off the coast, the natural gas fields are well within the rights of the Palestinians to access.

Lebanon has also claimed the gas fields further north off the Israeli coast since they lay within their EEZ. Maps were delivered to the UN by Lebanon yet Israeli Foreign Minister Lieberman stated, “We won’t give an inch.” Since 2019, the Lebanese economy has been in a state of severe crisis, characterized by extreme currency devaluation, soaring inflation, and widespread financial instability.

Israel’s blockade, initiated as a security measure against the Hamas administration in Gaza, has also served to inhibit the development of offshore natural resources for the Palestinians. The blockade is of land, air and sea with a maximum fishing limit reaching 12 nautical miles in 2019. Without direct access to their maritime space, Palestinians have been unable to make use of Gazan gas, impeding what could be a significant economic transformation.

Since October 7th, Israel has persisted with its economic ventures, issuing 12 licenses to six companies for additional natural gas exploration off its Mediterranean coast on October 30th [2]. The potential value of these reserves stood at an estimated $524 billion in 2019. However, a UN report from the same year contends that Israel does not have exclusive rights to these riches [3]. It argues that a significant portion of the reserves is located within Palestinian territories or international waters, suggesting these should be equitably distributed among all relevant parties, considering the reserves’ ancient origins and the historical occupancy of the land by Palestinians before the establishment of the state of Israel.

The European energy crisis, exacerbated by the Ukraine conflict and resulting sanctions on Russia, has intensified the search for alternative gas suppliers. The untapped resources of the Eastern Mediterranean, including the Gaza Marine, have thus gained increased strategic importance. British multinational BP and Italian energy company Eni were among the 6 companies granted licenses on October 30th [2].

Speculations circulate about the potential benefits to European nations and Israel if the removal of Palestinians from Gaza is actualised. By removing the Palestinians from Gaza, Israel could provide Europe with alternative energy sources, reducing reliance on American and Qatari gas. This scenario could also establish Israel as an influential player in the Mediterranean energy sector.

The potential of Gaza’s natural gas remains hostage to geopolitical disputes and security concerns. With Europe’s energy security at stake and the Levant Basin’s resources becoming more strategic, the future of Gaza Marine’s gas reserves is not just an economic question but a geopolitical dilemma that could have far-reaching implications for the region and its people.

[1] US Department of the Interior, “Levant basin holds 122 trillion cubic feet of natural gas,” U.S. Geological Survey Fact Sheet 2010–3014, March 2010-April 10, 2010.

[2] Rachel, “Amid ongoing war, BP and Eni among firms awarded gas exploration licenses in Israel”,, October 30, 2023

[3] UNCTAD, “The Economic Costs of the Israeli Occupation for the Palestinian People: The Unrealized Oil and Natural Gas Potential”, United Nations Conference on Trade and Development, 2019