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Israel's top court strikes down Mediterranean gas deal

Israel's Supreme Court has overturned a major gas deal to begin extracting natural gas from the massive Leviathan field in the Mediterranean. The decision is a blow to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

The Supreme Court ruled on Sunday that a clause in a gas deal between an American-Israeli energy consortium and Israel usurped the powers of parliament.

The so-called "stability clause" cited by the top court prevents Israel from making regulatory changes for 10 years, something the court said would prevent future governments from altering the deal.

It gave the government a year to amend the plan through parliament or it would be cancelled.

Blow to Israeli government

The decision is a major blow to Netanyahu, who has pitched the energy deal as a way to earn revenue and give Israel energy independence.

Calling the ruling "mystifying," Netanyahu said the decision was a "severe threat to the development of Israel's gas reserves."

"Nobody has reason to celebrate the fact the gas might remain in the depth of the sea, and hundreds of billions of shekels won't reach Israeli citizens," he said.

But critics and opposition figures, some of whom joined the petition against the deal, praised the court decision.

Isaac Herzog, the head of the main opposition Labor party, called the court's decision "correct and courageous."

Critics of the deal have argued the government gave US-based energy company Noble and its Israeli partner Delek

too favorable terms and too much power over the country's gas reserves.

Major discovery

Israel announced the discovery of natural gas in the Tamar and Leviathan fields in the Mediterranean more than five years ago.

Production at Tamar has already begun, but the Leviathan field, one of the largest recent discoveries of natural gas in the world,

has been held up.

Extraction of gas from Leviathan could have implications for regional diplomacy.

Israel is considering exporting gas to Jordan, Egypt and possibly to Europe.

cw/gsw (AFP, AP)

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