Israel became a major energy exporter for the first time on Monday after signing a permit to export natural gas to Egypt. The announcement comes just days before a lucrative Israeli gas field in the Mediterranean Sea is expected to go online.
Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz called the permit a "historic landmark" for Israel. He said it's the most significant economic cooperation project between the neighboring countries since they signed a peace deal in 1979.
The European Union, seeking to reduce its dependence on Russian gas, has encouraged the formation of new delivery routes, including through the eastern Mediterranean. These routes could also curtail Iranian ambitions to use Syria as a gateway to the Mediterranean.
"The natural gas revolution turns us into an energy power and affords us not just huge income for the country but also a dramatic decrease in air pollution," Steinitz said. Israel is planning to wean itself off coal, thanks to the expected gas boon.
But Israel's focus on its newfound gas reserves over the past decade has faced stiff domestic criticism from environmental and social welfare activists. They say the government has been too generous toward the gas tycoons behind the exploration, and that the massive investment has steered resources away from focusing on renewable energy sources.
More recently, local activists have been urging Israel's Delek Drilling and its U.S. partner, Noble Energy, to move a proposed shoreline treatment gas rig farther out to sea. The activists fear what they call the catastrophic consequences of spreading toxic water and air pollution toward their homes.
Delek, Noble and the Israeli government insist that the most stringent safety measures have been put in place, and accuse their critics of waging an irresponsible scare campaign.
Aside from the economic benefits, the promise of gas appears to have helped Israel grow closer to Arab governments and other Mediterranean countries.
Israel signed a $15 billion deal last year to provide Egypt with 64 billion cubic meters of gas over a 10-year period that will help transform both into regional energy players.
In January, Egypt hosted its first ever regional gas forum. The Israeli energy minister attended alongside several regional delegations, the first such visit by an Israeli Cabinet member since Egypt's 2011 Arab Spring uprising.
Although past economic agreements with Israel have been controversial in Egypt, where support for the Palestinians runs high, relations have been steadily warming.
Israel already delivers small quantities of gas to the Palestinians and to Jordan, with whom Delek and Noble signed their first export agreement in 2016.
The Leviathan reservoir was discovered in 2010 some 125 kilometers (75 miles) off the Israeli coast, and together with the discovery of the smaller Tamar field, ushered in a wave of optimism for a country that used to take an almost perverse pride in thriving with very few natural resources.
The Zohr gas field — discovered off the coast of Egypt in 2015 — has been touted as the largest ever in the Mediterranean.
Turkey has dispatched a surveillance and reconnaissance drone to the breakaway north of ethnically divided Cyprus amid tensions over offshore oil and gas exploration, Turkey's state-run Anadolu news agency said Monday.
The news agency said the Turkish-made Bayraktar TB2 drone took off from an airbase in Dalaman, Turkey and touched down at the airport in Gecitkala — known as Lefkoniko in Greek.
Kudret Ozersay, foreign minister of the self-declared Turkish Cypriot state, told reporters Sunday that the Turkish deployment would be limited to unarmed drones as there was "no need" for armed ones.
Earlier, Turkish Cypriot Prime Minister Ersin Tatar said there was an "urgent need" to address the security concerns of Turkey and the Turkish Cypriots in the eastern Mediterranean.
It's unclear what the drones will be specifically tasked to do on assigned missions. The Turkish government hasn't yet provided any details about the move.
Turkey's foreign minister. Mevlut Cavusoglu, said last week that Ankara could use its military forces to halt gas drilling in waters off Cyprus that it claims as its own.
Cavusoglu said Turkey "has the right to prevent" any unauthorized drilling in waters that it says fall within its own continental shelf.
Turkey doesn't recognize Cyprus as a state and asserts 44% of the island nation's exclusive economic zone are its own.
Part of the area that Turkey claims it has rights to are waters where Cyprus has exclusive economic rights and where companies including ExxonMobil, France's Total and Italy's Eni are licensed by the Cypriot government to jointly carry out drilling.
Cyprus' government spokesman Kyriakos Koushios told state broadcaster CyBC on Sunday that Turkish warships told an Israeli research vessel to leave "disputed" waters off Cyprus last month.
Cyprus was split in 1974 when Turkey invaded following a coup by supporters of union with Greece. Only Turkey recognizes a Turkish Cypriot declaration of independence in the north where it keeps more than 35,000 troops.
Earlier this year, Turkey dispatched warship-escorted drill ships to conduct exploratory gas drilling inside Cyprus' economic zone, including in an area where Eni and Total are licensed to drill. Ankara said it's acting to protect its interests and those of Turkish Cypriots to the area's energy reserves.
Last year, Turkish warships physically blocked a drill ship that was scheduled to carry out exploratory drilling on behalf of Eni in waters southeast of Cyprus.
The European Union has leveled sanctions against Turkey over its drilling activities off EU member Cyprus.
Last week, EU leaders rejected a deal Turkey signed with Libya's U.N.-recognized government that delineates the two countries' maritime borders which Ankara says gives it exclusive rights to a large swath of the eastern Mediterranean.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's challenger for the post of ruling Likud party leader is picking up more endorsements ahead of the official launch of his primary campaign on Monday.
Gideon Saar's associates expect about 1,000 party activists to attend the launch and have been buoyed by support of a half-dozen Likud lawmakers, including the powerful chairman of the party's executive body.
Saar's leadership bid marks the first serious internal challenge to Netanyahu in his decade-plus in power. Though still a decided underdog to the embattled prime minister, Saar seems to be gaining traction ahead of the Dec. 26 vote among the party faithful where there isgrowing skepticism that Netanyahu can still deliver after two indecisive election results and a corruption indictment that may force him out of office.
Netanyahu faces charges of bribery, fraud and breach of trust in three corruption cases in which he is accused of trading legislative or regulatory favors in exchange for lavish gifts or favorable media coverage. He denies wrongdoing and has waged an angry campaign against the media and law enforcement officials he said are bent on ousting him from office.
Outwardly, Likud members have strongly supported their leader and joined in denouncing the alleged "coup" of the liberal elites against him.
But Saar's burgeoning insurrection has begun to reveal some cracks.
While Netanyahu's various opponents across the political spectrum have called on him to resign because of his legal woes, Saar has kept saying the party needs a new leader because Netanyahu has been unable to form a stable coalition government and is unlikely to be able to again if given another chance.
Recent polls show that with Saar as leader, Likud would make a more powerful bloc with its natural ultra-Orthodox and nationalist allies. Saar would also be in an easier position to create a national unity government with the centrist Blue and White party if, as expected, the upcoming March election produces a deadlock like the previous two rounds have.
Blue and White have ruled out serving with Netanyahu because of his indictment.
Even amid the political disarray, Saar's challenge is a risky maneuver in a party that fiercely values loyalty and has had only four leaders in its 70-plus-year history. Netanyahu himself has denounced Saar as "subversive."
A former aide and senior Cabinet minister under Netanyahu, Saar has long been considered a rising star in Likud and a potential future heir. But while others arepatiently waiting for Netanyahu to step down on his own, Saar has been the only one who has dared to take him head on.
Netanyahu is desperate to stay on as prime minister as he girds up for his trial. If he is re-elected, Netanyahu could use the post-election coalition negotiations to offer potential partners coveted Cabinet posts in exchange for their support for immunity.
Under Israeli law, sitting prime ministers are not required to resign if charged with a crime. But the law is fuzzier when it comes to a new election, and Israel's attorney general is expected to soon voice an opinion on whether someone in Netanyahu's legal position can even be tasked with forming a government following the upcoming vote.
An angry mob killed a 16-year-old and strung up the corpse by its feet from a traffic pole after the teen shot and killed six people Thursday, including four anti-government protesters, Iraqi officials said.
Dozens of people pointed their cellphones at the body dangling high above them in a central Baghdad square. Videos circulating on social media showed the young man being beaten and dragged across the street.
The violence underscored the growing fears and suspicions swirling around the 8-week-old protest movement, which engulfed Iraq on Oct. 1 when thousands took to the streets to decry government corruption, poor services and scarcity of jobs.
A string of mysterious acts of bloodshed by unknown groups has put anti-government protesters on edge and eroded their faith in the ability of state security forces to protect them.
Last Friday, 25 protesters were killed when gunmen in pickup trucks opened fire in Baghdad's Khilani Square. That same week, mysterious knife attacks targeted over a dozen anti-government protesters in Tahrir Square, the hub of the protest movement.
In recent days, abductions and assassinations of high-profile civil activists have stoked paranoia among demonstrators. Protesters largely blame Iran-backed militias for the attacks and see the violence as a campaign to instill fear and weaken their peaceful movement.
Thursday's bloodshed began when the young gunman opened fire in Baghdad's Wathba Square, killing two shop owners and four protesters.. Security officials said the teen was wanted by police on drug-related charges and was running from security forces at the time.
An enraged mob beat the young man to death, security and health officials said. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity in line with regulations. At least eight people were wounded, the officials said.
Influential Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr called those who killed the teen "terrorists" and warned that if they were not identified within 48 hours, he would order his militia to leave the square. Members of Saraya Salam, or Peace Brigades, are deployed in the square to protect protesters. Protesters refer to them as the "blue hats."
The killing of the teenager was condemned by the wider protest movement in Tahrir Square, which said in a statement that the perpetrators were not part of their peaceful demonstrations.
"We can't allow the image of our pure revolution to be distorted, so we declare that we are innocent as peaceful demonstrators to what happened this morning in Wathba Square," the statement said.
A fire that broke out at a prison in Saudi Arabia's capital of Riyadh killed three inmates and injured 21 others on Thursday, state media reported.
Saudi media, quoting officials, reported that the fire broke out at 5 a.m. in Ward 7 of al-Malaz prison.
Officials said inmates were immediately evacuated and others transferred to the hospital for treatment.
Maj. Gen. Ayoub bin Nahit was quoted as saying an investigation into the cause of the fire has been launched. No further details were given.
Located in central Riyadh, authorities have held political detainees and rights activists at the jail, which has both male and female prisoners.
In a report published in 2011, Human Rights Watch noted photos had emerged the previous year showing al-Malaz prison with overcrowded communal cells.