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Opinion: Jordan and Israel Lowest Point Revealed in the Gas Deal

The historic treaty remains an agreement between governments, not peoples

When it was signed in 2016, the Israel-Jordan gas deal made sense. Having a huge annual energy bill, Jordan needed a strategic solution. The deal provided Jordan with easily accessible gas. Jordan invested a mere $15 million in a pipeline from the Israeli borders to the main electricity generating complex in the north of Jordan. The gas purchased at reasonable prices would replace the unstable Egyptian gas.

While Jordan already had a gas deal with Egypt, the Arab spring and the tensions between Egypt’s Morsi government and Jordan meant that the gas had stopped flowing due to ‘unknown assailants’ repeatedly blowing up the pipeline [from] Egypt. This cost Jordan billions because of the fact that it had to use the much more expensive (and environmentally bad) heavy fuel. Iraq’s Saddam Hussein, a major supporter, was no longer around and relations with the eastern Arab neighbors were not so good.

At the time relations with Israel weren’t bad due in large part to the hard work and the shuttle diplomacy by President Barak Obama’s top diplomat, Secretary of State John Kerry, especially regarding bringing quiet to Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa Mosque.

But in less than four years so many things had changed.

Egypt’s Morsi government and America’s Democrats are gone. Netanyahu has taken a further right-wing turn emboldened by the new resident in the White House. Two Jordanian citizens were shot dead by an Israeli guard who was given a hero’s welcome by Netanyahu and the Kerry-sponsored understandings in Al-Aqsa have fallen apart as more and more Jewish extremists enter Al-Aqsa daily, many praying on the holy Islamic site in contradiction of Bibi’s [nickname of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu] agreement with Jordan that Al-Aqsa is for Muslims to pray in and for all others to visit. Kerry was no longer around to resolve such problems. President Trump’s team of pro-Netanyahu Zionists (both the Jewish and Christian brands) have turned the Jordan-Israel peace deal between the two countries into a colder peace than that between Egypt and Israel. King Abdullah stopped receiving phone calls from the Israeli leader and has called the relationship between the sides at its lowest level.

Even on the energy level, Jordan’s situation has vastly improved. Jordan now has a liquefied gas port in Aqaba allowing Jordanians to import gas from the open market; and Egypt’s gas started flowing again as the [President Abdel Fattah el-]Sisi military government cemented its power in Egypt. A new oil well was discovered in the eastern part of Jordan, and Iraq’s government has warmed up to Jordan and a deal was signed to create a pipeline from Iraq to the Jordanian port of Aqaba. Hundreds of alternative clean energy projects have popped up using solar and wind energy to produce electricity.

So, with the Jordanian public being angry with Israel, and alternative energy available, it seemed that the sustained public opposition to the gas deal would produce results. Jordan’s parliament tried for a long time to get a copy of the Israel gas deal but to no avail. First, the deal was unavailable because it was supposedly in translation for months and it became clear that the government was stonewalling and not allowing members of parliament and the public to see the deal.

Finally, in late 2019, the deal became public for the first time since it was signed in September 2016 between NBL Jordan Marketing Limited [2] and Jordan’s government-owned national electricity company NEPCO [3], when a copy was leaked by the head of the Islamic bloc in the parliament, Salah Al-Armouti.

NBL Jordan Marketing, a subsidiary of the US firm Noble Energy [4], is registered in the Cayman Islands, an offshore tax haven, while its headquarters are in the Israeli city of  Herzliya, near Tel Aviv. NBL is itself a partnership owned by Noble Energy Mediterranean Limited – another subsidiary of Noble Energy – and three Israeli companies: Derek Drilling, Avner Oil Exploration and Ratio Oil Exploration. Derek and Avner have since merged.

The revelation of the Israeli partners and the depth of the Israeli (rather than the advertised American) role angered Jordanians. The Jordanian Campaign to Stop the Zionist Gas Deal published a list of Jordanian officials that were involved in the deal and increased the public demonstrations. The protests were not limited to the usual protests in downtown Amman but spread throughout the Kingdom. Naturally, the pressure was mostly felt by parliamentarians who were searching for ways to reverse or cancel the deal.

But the gas deal was not an easy one to abrogate. The 15-years and $10 billion deal began experimental pumping of Israeli-extracted gas from the Leviathan gas field in the eastern Mediterranean. The deal carried a harsh $1.5 billion cancellation penalty, so unless the parliament was able to find enough votes to bring down the government of Omar Razzaz there was little that they could do.

On January 19, the Parliament of Jordan succeeded in approving a draft law to ban imports of Israeli gas less than a month after it began flowing in an experimental phase. The parliamentary motion passed unanimously and will now be sent to the cabinet to be enacted into law, although legal hurdles may prevent it from coming into force. The gas deal has been a painful test of the Jordan-Israel peace treaty.

Although the peace agreement has survived, it has been badly hurt as a result of the lack of faith by Jordanians in the importance of an agreement with Israel, while Israel refuses to make any progress on the Palestinian side and continues to belittle the importance of its eastern neighbors in Jordan. The absence of an adult third party has made things worse and will keep the peace treaty as an agreement between countries and not between peoples.