JERUSALEM (JTA) — Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu pushed ahead with a deal to develop a natural gas field in the Mediterranean Sea despite objections by government regulators.
Netanyahu on Thursday invoked a legal clause that will allow two companies, Texas-based Noble Energy and the Israeli Delek Group, to retain majority control of the Leviathan field for 10 years after the gas begins flowing in exchange for reducing its holdings in three other fields.
Netanyahu pressed ahead with the deal despite objections by the country’s Anti-Trust Authority, which ruled that the consortium developing Leviathan could be a monopoly. Israel’s antitrust commissioner resigned earlier this year in protest of the plan.
To approve the deal, Netanyahu, who also serves as the economy minister after the resignation of Aryeh Deri over the issue, invoked Clause 52 of the Restrictive Trade Practices Law, which allows the economy minister to approve a monopoly if it is a matter of national security.
“We came today to provide gas to Israel, to the Israeli economy, to the Israeli citizens,” Netanyahu said at a signing ceremony. “The gas has been given to us as a gift from God. Found in the deep sea, it gives us huge gas reserves. It makes us a potential, if not an actual energy power, certainly a major international force.”
Leviathan, discovered in 2010 in the Mediterranean Sea west of Haifa, is estimated to hold 16 trillion to 18 trillion cubic feet of gas.
Thousands of Israelis have protested the deal on a regular basis and called for the gas fields to be nationalized, concerned that the gas consortium will keep prices high and agree to export much of the gas.
The opposition Zionist Union party on Thursday said it would ask Israel’s Supreme Court to void the use of Clause 52 to advance the gas deal.