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Israel PM signs major gas deal, but court battle awaits

He has faced strong opposition from political rivals and others, who say the agreement amounts to a giveaway to the energy companies, and thousands having staged street protests against it.

The proposed outline seeks to regulate the development, harvesting, and royalties from Israel’s Leviathan, Tamar, Tanin, and Karish offshore gas fields, as well as any future natural gas finds.

By resolving the final sticking points in the anti-trust dispute, the Houston-based oil company can begin pressing forward with plans to expand the Tamar and develop the Leviathan.

Netanyahu has said the move will pump hundreds of billions into Israeli coffers, though activists say the deal with the US-Israeli consortium is too favorable toward business interests.

Israel’s monopolies commission has warned that the agreement could give Noble and Israeli partner Delek an effective monopoly.

To sidestep its objections, Netanyahu wants to use an obscure clause allowing the deal to be pushed through by order of the economy minister – a portfolio held by him, along with foreign affairs and other posts. Israel’s antitrust commissioner resigned earlier this year in protest of the plan.

Noble Energy said the deal “establishes the regulatory certainty and stability necessary to proceed with Leviathan” as well as the expansion of the nearby Tamar field, where Israel now gets its gas for generating electricity.

Leviathan, discovered in 2010 in the Mediterranean Sea west of Haifa, is estimated to hold 16 trillion to 18 trillion cubic feet of gas.

The committee said the deal puts vital natural resources in the hands of one group, creating a monopoly that would block competition in the energy market and increase the prices of electricity.

“The development of Leviathan will substantially expand Noble Energy’s capacity to deliver gas to Israel and the region, a well as provide a second source of domestic natural gas supply and redundancy of infrastructure for the people of Israel”, the company said in a statement.

The consortium is also said to have agreed to invest $1.5 billion to develop Leviathan over the next two years.

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