The echoes of the bombing of the gas pipeline linking Egypt and Israel by masked militants did not stop at the Bir al-Abd area in North Sinai Governorate. That explosion raised widespread questions and controversy about a return of attacks that took place 27 times between 2011 and 2012. Commentators have highlighted the significance of its timing, especially after the branch of ISIS in Egypt, known as Sinai Province, claimed responsibility on February 4. Over the past several years ISIS has been targeting Egyptian army soldiers not the pipelines, even after the announcement of Egypt’s import of gas from Israel in March 2017. In the wake of the bombings on the Ashkelon-al-Arish route in 2011-2012, responsibility was directed at a group of unidentified “masked men,” until the Egyptian Gas Holding Company announced, in April 2012, the cancellation of the Egyptian gas export agreement to Israel, which was concluded during the era of former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak. The company, at the time, took care of security concerns related to the successive bombing of the pipeline.
The Egyptian-Israeli gas agreement was among the most prominent issues raised after the January 25 2011 revolution in Egypt, and as a result, a judicial ruling in June 2012 sentenced the former Egyptian Minister of Petroleum Sameh Fahmy and businessman Hussein Salem on charges of corruption. However, after nearly three years the defendants were acquitted in February 2015 under General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi. The group’s targeting once again of the controversial gas pipeline reflects its desire to exploit popular discontent towards Egypt’s import of gas from Israel by bringing the issue to the fore again. In September 2018, Cairo declared it was self-sufficient in natural gas after production began from the Zohr field discovered in 2015. Contrary to expectations after this announcement, an agreement was signed to sell Israel gas to Egypt in 2017, on the pretext of “re-exporting” it to Europe after its liquefaction, making Egypt a regional centre of energy, and making it a strong player benefiting from gas fields in the eastern Mediterranean. The Egyptian government confirmed, at the time, that it would direct these natural gas imports to two complexes to liquefy it, one in Damietta Governorate, and the other in Idku, Dakahlia Governorate. However, the tripartite agreement signed by Greece, Greek Cyprus and Israel on January 2, with the aim of exporting Israeli gas to Europe, destroyed Cairo’s dreams, according to experts who confirmed that the agreement makes the regional energy centre in Israel and not in Egypt.
Economists have warned that EastMed pipeline indicates that Egypt was “betting on the wrong regional sphere and that the Mediterranean Forum, which it sought to form with Greece, Greek Cyprus and Israel, was not for an economic objective, but rather political, to be against Turkey.” Egyptian economics professor Ahmed Zekrallah said that the American administration’s support for the tripartite agreement between Israel and Greek Cyprus and Greece with a special protection law clearly means that Egypt “will not be a regional centre for energy.” He pointed out that all the money that was spent on the liquefaction stations and the facilities was granted by the al-Sisi regime to gas exploration companies in the eastern Mediterranean and was not based on economic, security, military and strategic feasibility studies, according to Arabi 21. In light of this, the resurgence of the Egyptian-Israeli gas pipeline bombings may represent an opportunity for the Egyptian regime to evade the import agreement, as was done in 2012, or suspend it based on “security risks,” which explains why the Egyptian media has been talking about the incident.
This analysis is consistent with what Zach Gold, from the security consulting firm CNA, said to Egyptian officials: “If they are unable to protect themselves and their infrastructure, then it will be difficult for them to protect this infrastructure for gas pipelines,” according to Wall Street Journal. The suspension of gas imports would be pressure for Egypt to be included in the Israeli agreement with Greece and Greek Cyprus on the one hand, or open the way for a strategic review for cooperation with Turkey, on the other hand. In this regard, Zekrallah refers to what was proposed by the Turkish President’s Adviser for Political Affairs Yassin Akti on the necessity of Egyptian-Turkish compatibility and cooperation in the Mediterranean gas issue, considering it a good solution that will help Egypt get out of this impasse.
The economist asserts that the best thing for the Egyptian regime to do would be to direct the policy to serve the economy, not the other way around, “because its existing policy has taken Egypt out of the equation.” Many economic experts indicated that the “energy centre” promoted by al-Sisi is not economically feasible in light of Egypt owning only 20 per cent of the gas liquefaction plants. This means that even if the project is established, 80 per cent of its revenue will be in favour of foreign companies. The experts asked about the secret of the state’s determination to import gas from Israel if the project did not achieve any benefit for Egypt and the Egyptians. There is no official answer to this question yet, but the possibility of a repeat of attacks on the Sinai gas pipeline and the extent of Egypt’s ability to overcome its regional conflict with Turkey and cooperate over Mediterranean gas are important questions that may change the region’s political and economic map.