Silvan Shalom is the Israeli Minister for Regional Development, Minister for the Development of the Negev and Galilee, and Minister of Energy and Water. It is November 2013 and the Minister is in the Negev Desert with the Prime Minister and other ministers for a Cabinet Meeting that takes place near the Tomb of Ben Gurion on the day of his anniversary. In Israel the Cabinet Meeting takes place on Sunday morning.

The Minister finds some time for an interview, and he is very willing to talk about the new discovery of gas that will potentially change the Israelis’ economic and political situation:-

Yes, we discovered gas, the so called Leviathan gas field, and this will also allow us to export around 50% of it, starting with Cyprus, Greece and Italy. In a recent trip to Italy the Prime Minister Enrico Letta and other Ministers told me that they would like to be the port of arrival for Israeli gas to be exported into Europe. We have to consider if gas will be transported by pipeline, or if we will have to change it into liquid and then ship it by boat. There are several ways. For instance we would like to build an underwater electricity inter-connector with Cyprus and Greece.

What are the effects of this discovery on Israel?

We will use it for domestic needs. It will cut the prices of water, gas, and the cost of manufacturing goods that are sold on the local market. This will cut the cost of living in a very sharp way.

When will it be a reality?

For export we will be ready by 2018/2019 and on the local market we will be ready to slash the cost of gas and electricity then. But even today we have already cut the cost of gas for industry by 250 million per month, which means 3 billion per year. But in 2015 it will be a saving of 9 billion per year. Israel will become a much cheaper country. We would also like to find oil and wish that big operators would come and invest. But many are still involved with Arab countries.

Are you going to export to Asia?

Yes, liquid gas on ships. It could replace Iranian oil. In 2004 China signed a contract with Iran for gas and oil worth 75 billion for the next 30 years. China and Russia are very concerned with Iran and would like the existing regime to remain in power. The fall of the regime implies the fall of Iran and of Syria. In that case the US would control all the Middle East.

But now even America is becoming an exporter of gas because of fracking.

Yes, it is true.

What is the position of your Government on the Iranian negotiations?

Our Prime Minister Netanyahu has warned the US Secretary of State Kerry, and has phoned President Obama, President Putin, President Hollande, Chancellor Merkel and Prime Minister Cameron, warning them not to make a huge mistake in the Geneva talks with Iran. For us there are no valid reasons to remove sanctions before Iran stops enriching uranium at a level where it will be easy to convert it into military use. Sanctions are important because Iran suffers from them a lot. For instance their currency has depreciated 80%, and unemployment is rising, and this could bring about the end of the regime. It would be wrong to make them presents without a real result in the de-nuclearisation process. If the new agreement is weak it will help the Government to stay in power.

What happens between Israel and the Arab world?

Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey have similar views to ours vis-à-vis Iran. In Egypt the Muslim Brothers are no longer in power. In Syria we assess the battle and see what is going to happen. We would like to invest more with the Palestinians in order to reduce the gap, but it is not easy. With Jordan we have very good relations.

You are also Minister of Water. What is the situation today?

In the coming year 2014 we will have a lot of water with the completion of the project for desalination of sea water. We will have more water that we need for the first time.

Are you going to export water?

Maybe to Jordan and the Palestinians. Other countries use our experience, our knowledge. We invented the irrigation process. We also know how to recycle 87% of water.

Are you going to help China, which as we know has major problems with water?

We would like to help the Chinese. We are in contact with them. We are quite strong in high tech; we are number two after Canada as to high tech companies in the Nasdaq. We are very advanced in the field of water technology.

What kind of relationship do you have with Italy?

Excellent. We met with the President of ENI, with Enel, with Edison; and the people from Fiat came to Israel to help us on how to convert our buses and trucks from diesel to gas.


The Minister has to go back to his Cabinet Meeting and tells me that he will be coming to Italy at the beginning of December for the Bilateral Meeting that will take place in Turin. In the meantime they are looking forward to the visit to Jerusalem of French President François Hollande in the coming days. It is clear that Israel is going through a crucial moment of many changes that may influence geopolitical movements in the troublesome waters of the Levant.


Negev Desert,

10th November 2013