* Officer appointed to safeguard rigs from Hezbollah
* Turkish assertiveness at sea worries Israel, Cyprus
By Dan Williams
TEL AVIV, Nov 21 Israel has gradually
boosted naval patrols around its east Mediterranean natural gas
fields for fear of guerrilla attacks and as maritime rivalry
with Turkey deepens, an Israeli official said on Monday.
Missile boats have stepped up missions around the Tamar and
Leviathan platforms over the past year, as well as coordination
with private security firms contracted by the U.S.-Israeli
exploration consortium, the official said.
"We have replicated the arrangements already in place at Yam
Tethys," the official said, referring to another Israeli gas
field 40 km (25 miles) off southern Ashkelon port, near the
waters of the Palestinian territory Gaza.
Tamar and Leviathan, in which Israel sees a potential
pipeline to energy independence, are around twice and three
times as far out to sea, respectively. That challenges Israel's
small navy, which is more accustomed to close coastal patrols.
The Israeli military's newspaper Bamahane said the navy was
undergoing expansion including the appointment of a commodore
to handle the induction of two more German-made submarines and
address "the new need to protect the drilling rigs".
Bamahane did not elaborate, but experts have long voiced
concern that Tamar and Leviathan could be targeted by Lebanese
Hezbollah guerrillas given Beirut's complaints at what it deems
Israel's unilateral exploration in the absence of an agreed
maritime border. The two countries are technically at war.
"One danger is a proximity attack, by frogmen, by boats, by
terrorists in some fashion," Giora Eiland, a former Israeli
national security adviser, told the Globes business journal in
"Another, bigger challenge is how to face the threat of
missiles, because today you can launch missiles from tens of
kilometres away," he said.
Israel and Cyprus, which is doing its own drilling for
eastern Mediterranean gas in consortium with Texas-based Noble
Energy, are also mindful of Turkey's naval assertiveness
in the area.
NATO-member Turkey, which pledged in September to send in
more frigates and torpedo boats, says any natural resources
found off Cyprus should be shared with the island's breakaway
ethnic-Turkish north, a state recognised solely by Ankara.
Turkey's Islamist-rooted government also described the naval
reinforcements as a precaution against Israel intercepting
pro-Palestinian sympathisers who attempt to sail to blockaded
Gaza, as it did in 2010, killing nine Turks.
The Israeli official confirmed that the new safeguards
around Tamar and Leviathan came in response to the perceived
Hezbollah threat, but was more circumspect about the face-off
with Turkey, formerly Israel's stalwart Muslim ally.
"We are keeping up with all the challenges of operating in
the eastern Mediterranean," the official said.
Tamar and Leviathan, from which Israel predicts at least
$150 billion in gas revenues, are scheduled to begin pumping in
2013 and 2017 respectively. Yam Tethys is currently Israel's
only working rig.