Egypt's suspension of gas supplies to Israel after the North Sinai pipeline was blown up Saturday, Feb 5 has suddenly cut Israel off from 25-30 percent of its gas neds and 80 percent of Jordan's. A few hours after the blast, Egyptian Prime Minister Ahmad Shafiq announced the gas supplied to both countries under contract would henceforth be diverted to domestic requirements.
With Egyptian gas cut off for the foreseeable future, Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu went into hasty non-stop consultations with ministers and energy military and security officials. Alongside the emergency declared by Israel's electricity corporation, those consultations centered on three additional facets of the crisis: The expanding occupation of North Sinai by Palestinian Hamas extremists from Gaza and anti-Egyptian Bedouin tribesmen, culminating in the gas pipeline explosion; the failure of joint Israeli and Egyptian military efforts to contain it and, thirdly, concerns that Hamas may cross into Israel and sabotage Israeli power stations or fuel reservoirs to bring about the collapse of Israel's electrical power system.
The pipeline supplying Egyptian gas to Israel and Jordan was blown up near the North Sinai town of El Arish early Saturday Feb. 5. Egyptian state TV reported "terrorists" had carried out the attack which caused a huge explosion and fire. Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu conferred urgently with Infrastructure Minister Uzi Landau and energy firms over the abrupt cutoff of 25 percent of Israel's gas needs and ordered security beefed up at energy installations. The Egyptian and Israeli accounts are contradictory.
An Israeli official spokesman said the explosion was nowhere near the Israeli section of the pipeline and closer to the Jordanian branch. The Egyptian spokesman spoke only of supplies to Israel which he said had been suspended as a precaution because there had been several smaller explosions along the pipe.
The Israeli Infrastructure Ministry spokesman reported that Egyptian gas, which covers 25 percent of Israel's needs, had been cut off at 0900 Saturday morning. He did not foresee regular power supplies being disrupted.
DEBKAfile's counter-terror sources report that the attack on the El Arish gas facility was planned on military lines by a special Hamas team which infiltrated Sinai from Gaza last week. It was a major Hamas operation against on Israel (which incidentally supplies most of the Gaza Strip's power), and blatant Palestinian interference in Egypt's domestic unrest. It was also a fiasco for the joint IDF-and Egyptian military effort to police Sinai during the turbulence in Egypt and secure this strategic peninsula against destabilization by terrorists.
Muslim Brotherhood spokesmen in Cairo were quick to attach responsibility for the pipeline attack on disaffected Bedouin – a clumsy attempt, say DEBKAfile's sources, to clear their offshoot, Hamas, of blame for a well-planned act of which they must have had prior knowledge.
Jordan is badly hit by the loss of Egyptian gas which covers 80 percent of its energy consumption. The Hashemite kingdom will have to resort to the far more expensive heavy oil and diesel to keep its power supply running and raise fuel prices after the king yielded to Islamist-back protesters' demands to reduce prices.
The close rapport between the Muslim Brotherhood and the Palestinian and Lebanese terrorist organizations came to light earlier in the Hizballah-led operation to release Lebanese Hizballah, Palestinian Hamas and Egyptian Brotherhood convicts from Wadi Natrun jail north of Cairo Sunday, Jan. 30, first revealed by DEBKAfile.
While the Hamas and Hizballah escapees headed for Sinai and Gaza, the MB activists made straight for the hubs of disturbance in Egypt. (Click here for this story.)
The embattled Mubarak administration in Cairo may well find it politic to indefinitely put off repairing the pipe and restoring supplies to Israel for two reasons:
1. The incident will support Mubarak's argument that his immediate departure as demanded by Obama would throw Egypt into chaos – and not only Egypt, but resonate devastatingly across the entire region. Not just Israel, but its second peace partner, Jordan, is badly hit too by the loss of Egyptian gas which covers 80 percent of its energy consumption. Amman will have to convert to the far more expensive heavy oil and diesel to keep its power supply running. Fuel prices will have to be raised shortly after the king dropped them to quell the Islamist-back protests shaking the kingdom.
2. Some of the opposition factions backed by the US for a role in future government, such as the Muslim Brotherhood, are fiercely opposed to Egypt's peace relations with Israel which he has promoted for 32 years. The sale of Egyptian gas to Israel has come under constant attack in the street, which has accused the government of undercutting world prices and defrauding the Egyptian treasury.
The Mubarak regime and Egyptian army may want to show they respect popular opinion and are not American or Israeli pawns by not repairing the pipeline and keeping the gas supply to Israel cut off.
DEBKAfile reports that the Israeli Infrastructure Ministry's assurance that no power disruptions were foreseen glosses over the serious repercussions of the loss overnight of a quarter of Israel's gas consumption for manufacturing electricity and its lack of gas reserves.
Israel's power stations will have to switch immediately from gas to heavy oil or coal, a complicated technical process that will have a bad effect on the environment. Energy officials told DEBKAfile Saturday that the power stations affected are Hadera, Haifa (which is partly gas-fueled) and the Tel Aviv Reading facility which was only recently converted to gas. All Israel's emergency electricity stations are also powered by gas.
Therefore, the Infrastructure Ministry's assurance may have been premature.