In a revelation that’s getting a lot of play in the Israeli press but remarkably little in the United States, Secretary of State John Kerry is revealed to have been using his post to push Israel on issues of natural gas policy in ways which would have bolstered Noble Energy, a company which at the time he owned roughly $1 million in stock in.
Noble Energy and its partner Delek have been under intense pressure in Israel for having formed an effective monopoly on the nation’s natural gas, controlling the nation’s sole import facility as well as having a majority interest in its two large offshore gas fields, Tamar and Leviathan.
Israel’s antitrust commissioner had been pushing the government to move against the monopoly, which prompted Kerry to call Netanyahu and urge him to follow through on a plan to retroactively “forgive” the monopoly, telling Netanyahu it was important for Israel to have a “consistent regulatory environment.”
State Department officials, under Kerry’s watch, actually spent years convincing Israel to set up a plan to allow Noble and Delek to export some 40% of the gas produced at the offshore sites, and even helped broker deals with Jordanian and Egyptian importers to buy it.
The deal is increasingly in regulatory limbo, however, related to uncertainty about the partnership’s monopoly status, and calls from Israeli officials to see to it that the gas industry has more competition and lower domestic prices.
The debate is vitally important within Israel, and many are seeing US interests in the deal as skewing Israeli policy. It could be, in the case of Secretary Kerry, that this interest is more personal than anyone had realized at the time.
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