Egypt in Revolt
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|Martin Barillas||February 6th 2011|
Cutting Edge Senior Correspondent
Egyptian state-controlled media reported on February 5 that unidentified masked terrorists detonated explosives at the El-Arish gas terminal in Egypt. The conflagration shot flames hundreds of feet into the air at the Sinai Peninsula facility, also effectively cutting off Israel’s supply of essential natural gas at least temporarily. The pipelines there transport gas from Egypt's Port Said on the Mediterranean Sea to Israel and Jordan. The gas pipeline to Jordan was damaged in the blast, according to Israel Radio. "It is a big terrorist operation", an Egyptian TV reporter said. Israel has stopped drawing gas as a precaution.
Nearby residents heard an explosion early in the Saturday morning event, which Egyptian state television called a "terrorist" attack. The governor of the region, Abdel Wahab Mabrouk, said he suspected "sabotage," but provided no details. Flames raged at the scene for three hours before they were successfully put out. However, no injuries were reported. Egyptian security blamed “saboteurs” and “foreign elements” for the blast while increasing security at other energy facilities.
The blast came after Islamists called on militants to exploit the unrest that has rocked the government over the last week. State television reported that an Egyptian official’s fears that "situation is very dangerous and explosions were continuing from one spot to another" along the pipeline.
Israeli officials said it was not clear what the upshot is as a result of the explosion. "At this stage, the gas supply to Israel was stopped according to procedure in emergency scenarios," said Chen Ben Lulu, spokesman of Israel's Infrastructure Ministry. "We are not sure what caused the explosion." There were some initial claims by the CEO of the gas company in Egypt that the explosion was the result of a leak.
Israeli Prime Minister' Benjamin Netanyahu’s office stated that "Israel is prepared for stoppages in the gas supply from Egypt and has immediate access to alternative sources of energy." Netanyahu met with Infrastructure Minister Uzi Landau following the blaze to discuss the explosion and the subsequent cutting off of the gas supply through the pipeline. The Israeli premier is also receiving hourly reports about the situation in Egypt, which US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton admitted is a “perfect storm” as to US interests in the entire Mideast.
Israeli government sources do not foresee any problems with the country's electricity supply as a result of the explosion. Even so, security has been stepped up at country's energy facilities. For its part, Jordan has switched its generators to fuel-oil and diesel as a precaution.
The gas pipeline has come under attack in the past. Bedouin tribesmen of the Sinai Peninsula attempted to blow it up in July 2010 as tensions intensified between them and the Egyptian government, which they accuse of ignoring their poverty. The SITE intelligence group said some groups had been urging Islamic militants to attack the pipeline to Israel. According to SITE, which monitors Islamic terrorism, “Jihadists suggested that Muslims in Sinai take advantage of Egyptian unrest and strike the Arish-Ashkelon gas pipeline, arguing that it would have a major impact on Israel."
Egyptian opposition groups have long complained that Egyptian gas is sold to Israel at preferential prices and that contractual obligations violated domestic bureaucratic regulations. The government insists it is done on commercial terms and everything is in order. Egypt is a modest gas exporter, using pipelines to export to Israel, Jordan and other regional states. It also exports via liquefied natural gas facilities on its north coast, but those are not in the Sinai region. Israel gets 40 percent of its natural gas from Egypt, a deal built on their landmark 1979 peace accord.
Cutting Edge Senior Correspondent Martin Barillas also edits Speroforum.com