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Israel to Invest in Navy to Protect Huge NatGas Fields

An Israeli navy vessel enters the southern port of Ashdod.
Jack Guez | AFP | Getty Images
An Israeli navy vessel enters the southern port of Ashdod.

Back in 2009, Israel discovered huge natural gas reserves just off its Mediterranean coast. Those reserves have been estimated to be in the region of 950 billion cubic meters, and a surge in exploration means that by the end of the year there should be 18 new platforms drilling for gas.

The growth of the fields offers a new problem to Israel. The investment going into the new platforms, and the economic importance that they are growing to represent, must be protected. The offshore platforms are ripe targets for attack, and that means that Israel's underfunded navy has just found itself in demand.

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From the outset, as reassurance to foreign firms investing in the development of the reserves, the Israeli government has stated its intentions to protect the new gas fields.

Captain Ilan Lavi, head of the navy's planning department, explained that "the gas fields are a strategic asset and Israel will defend them. They may not be too complicated to attack, but we are aware of the threats and are prepared for them."

Currently the navy is under-equipped to adequately patrol the waters and protect the drill rigs.

He suggested that they will "have to build an entire new defensive envelope. But you can't have a defense system that costs more to build than the gas itself."

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The platforms are within rocket range of the Gaza Strip. which is ruled by the Palestinian Islamist group Hamas. The Shi'ite military group Hezbollah poses an even bigger threat from Lebanon. Then there are other enemies such as Iran, and various Islamist groups from Iraq.

Lavi suggested that a suitable defense system would cost $700 million to deploy, and then $100 million a year to maintain.

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