A look at Egypt’s failure to exploit gas in the Mediterranean

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Israel has already begun to exploit the Leviathan gas field off its shores. AFP

By: Izzat Shaaban

Published Saturday, December 6, 2014

The oil and gas resources that Egypt could benefit from are just talk and cannot even be exploited as Israel manipulates these resources and seeks to maintain its control over them by all means possible.

Cairo – When Israel undertook security measures to protect gas fields in the Mediterranean Sea, including renting a military unit in Cyprus until 2016, it ignited a crisis regarding the right to exploit the oil and gas fields in the Mediterranean. Due to the fact that Israel established the Iron Dome missile defense system to intercept missiles along its coast and off its territorial waters, in addition to its intelligence activities, it was able to monitor the work being done in these economically viable waters.

In addition, Israel has a confidential strategic security understanding with the United States in coordination with Turkey to preempt any international operations aimed at gas exploration and to strike them through the military unit established in Cyprus or the US Sixth Fleet present in the Mediterranean. All these Israeli actions deprive the Egyptian treasury of nearly a billion US dollars yearly for failing to exploit the discovered gas fields in territorial waters in the Mediterranean Sea.

Egypt’s inability to control the gas fields

As a matter of fact, Egypt was never able to control the gas fields located along its territorial maritime borders in the Mediterranean Sea because “Israel seized control of the Leviathan gas field and Cyprus controls the Aphrodite gas field even though they fall within the range of Egypt’s economic water,” according to economic expert Nael Salah al-Din al-Shafi speaking to Al-Akhbar.

According to Shafi, the problem “lies with the location of the fields discovered by some Mediterranean countries and along Egypt’s current maritime border.” He pointed out that “in principle, we cannot estimate the economic returns of the discovered gas fields because there are several of them and we don’t really know their content.”

Maritime delineation

It is known that drawing Egypt’s maritime border was marred with errors. One of these errors, according to Samir al-Najjar, professor of marine science at Alexandria University, is the degree of commitment to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea stipulating that “Coastal States exercise sovereignty over their territorial waters which they have the right to establish its breadth up to a limit not to exceed 12 nautical miles... and have sovereign rights in a 200-nautical mile exclusive economic zone.” That is why, according to Najjar, “If the distance between two states facing each other across the sea is less than 400 nautical miles, they cannot get 200 nautical miles each, therefore they have to agree to demarcate their borders based on the historical and economic rights of each state.”

He added, “If there are no established economic and historical rights for these states, they should resort to maritime delineation based on the meridian or sector line.”

“Egypt overlooked the fact that its established historical rights go back to 200 years BC.” al-Najjar said, pointing out that “after re-measuring, it became evident that the meridian limit in the Aphrodite gas field for example lies three kilometers away.” “This piece of information alone means that two entire fields are located within Egyptian waters,” al-Najjar explained.

Historically, the Mediterranean fields were discovered by geologist Hussam Kheir al-Din. Al-Najjar said that Egypt and Cyprus signed an agreement on February 17, 2003 which was approved by then President Hosni Mubarak and the parliament. In 2006, the two countries signed the so-called Framework Convention to share hydrocarbon reservoirs, meaning gas and oil. However, errors in demarcation postponed the ownership of Aphrodite field, which eventually became Cyprus’ and not Egypt’s. This decision must be reversed but that requires Egypt to redraw its maritime border. Kheir al-Din indicated that Egypt gave up its rights when it agreed to allow internet cables to pass through its water for no charge, pointing out that annual losses vary between $750 million and $2 billion.

The reason behind the latest crisis

Security expert, General Ismail al-Gazzar, said the reason behind the latest crises over the Mediterranean waters emerged after Egypt issued the Cairo Declaration at a conference held last month at al-Ittihadiya presidential palace which “foiled an undeclared agreement between Turkey, Cyprus and Israel that aims at pressuring Egypt to impose the status quo after seizing control of all the resources in the Mediterranean.” Gazzar pointed out that “Energy, the US company in charge of gas exploration in the Mediterranean, resorted to military units in anticipation of any international activities to drill for gas.”

Economic losses

Economics professor at the American University of Cairo, Nawal al-Said, said that the two adjacent fields, the Leviathan and Aphrodite, contain reserves worth $200 billion. She pointed out that the US oil and gas company ATB began developing Shimshon, the Egyptian maritime field also seized by Israel, which has about 3.5 trillion cubic feet.

According to economist Amr Helmy, a specialist in financial and stock markets, Egypt has about 123 trillion cubic meters in reserves in the oil fields that are being looted by Israel and about 40 trillion cubic meters of natural gas considered one of the purest in the world. As a result, he added that “Egypt loses about $24 trillion.”

This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.


During ti 6 day war it was with in Egypt's power to wipe Israel off the face of the earth & they did not. Israel's so called preemptive air strike that supposedly decommissioned the air strips of the Egyptian air forces
wait for it ...........DID NOT HAPPEN
When will the Middle East give Israel its walking papers ?

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