Putin Plays ’Energy Chess’ with Netanyahu
F. William Engdahl | Wed, May 11, 2016
On April 21 Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu flew to Moscow for closed door talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin. The media reported that the talks were over the situation in Syria, a theme where Moscow has made certain a regular hotline dialogue exists to avoid potential military clashes. It seems, however, that the two discussed quite another issue–potential Russian involvement in developing Israel’s giant offshore Leviathan gas field in the Eastern Mediterranean. Were the two to strike a deal, the geopolitical implications could be enormous for Putin and Russia’s strategic role in the Middle East as well as for the future of the US influence in the region.
Israeli press reported the Netanyahu-Putin talks as being about “coordination between forces in skies above war-torn country, status of Golan Heights…”
According to Russian state media reports, however, in addition, Netanyahu and Putin discussed the potential role of Russia’s state-owned Gazprom, the world’s largest natural gas producer and marketer, as a possible stakeholder in Israel’s Leviathan natural gas field. Russian involvement in the stalled Israeli gas development would reduce financial risk for Israeli offshore gas operations and increase the gas fields’ security, as Russian allies like Hezbollah in Lebanon or Iran would not dare target Russian joint ventures.
If the Russian reports are accurate, it could portend a major new step in Putin energy geopolitics in the Middle East, one which could give Washington a major defeat in her increasingly inept moves to control the world’s center of oil and gas.
Many outside observers might be surprised that Putin would be in such a dialogue with Netanyahu, a longstanding US ally. There are many factors behind it. One is the leverage Russia’s President has through the presence of more than one million ethnic Russians in Israel, including a cabinet member in Netanyahu’s government. More importantly, since the Obama Administration went ahead, over vehement Netanyahu protests, to sign the nuclear deal with Iran in 2015, relations between Washington and Tel Aviv have chilled to put it mildly.
The situation is being skillfully mined by Putin and Russia.