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Tel Aviv angry after Total says Israel not worth investing in

Total headquarters in Paris

French energy giant Total has sparked the anger of Israeli authorities after its chief executive said making investment in the “complex” Israel was not worth the risk.

Total’s chief executive Patrick Pouyanne said in an interview with the Financial Times that it was too “complex” to invest in Israel, noting that his company’s operation in the Middle East was a sticking point.

“We like complex situations ... up to a certain point. Let’s be clear,” he said.

Pouyanne further said that the stakes in Israel were not big enough to accept the risks involved, partly due to the competition already in the region.

Israel’s energy minister Yuval Steinitz slammed the stance as “unacceptable,” saying firms that refused to invest in Israel were living in the “past decades.”

“I reject it with two hands, I think this is a miserable view,” Steinitz said, adding “We will consider our reaction to this as it is totally unacceptable, to boycott [Israel].”

Israel relies heavily on gas. The Tel Aviv regime has long been developing a number of offshore gas deposits in the Mediterranean Sea.

This picture taken on January 31, 2019 shows a view of the SSCV Thialf crane vessel near the Leviathan natural gas field in the Mediterranean Sea, about 130 km west of Haifa, Israel. (Photo by AFP)

Steinitz claimed that other international firms, including Google, Lockheed Martin and Boeing, that had invested in Israel had not faced any problems in the Arab world.

“Companies that were afraid to make investments in Israel in the past because of the Arab Muslim world made the wrong calculation,” Steinitz said, adding he had met many energy ministers from Persian Gulf Arab countries in recent years.

“If somebody is avoiding investing in Israel because it might have interests in Iran then that can be the only reason, because the Arab world is not concerned," the Israeli minister claimed.

However, a person from the gas industry, said, “It’s not only Total who faces these kinds of realities in the region.”

Texas-based Noble Energy and Israeli company Delek Resources have been the two main operators in Israel. Executives say the largest international operators are still concerned about the fragile politics of the region.

In 2017, Total signed a contract to develop phase 11 of Iran’s multi-billion-dollar South Pars gas project with an initial investment of $1 billion.

However, the French company pulled out of the project in August after it failed to obtain a waiver from the US.

Total is also investing in the eastern Mediterranean basin where Israel and Lebanon are involved in a maritime dispute.

Last year, the Lebanese government announced that it had signed gas exploration and production contracts for two energy blocks, including the disputed Block 9, with a consortium of France's Total, Italy's Eni and Russia's Novatek oil and gas companies.

Total, however, said it would not drill the first well of Block 9 near the disputed sliver of waters, adding that the well would be drilled over 25 kilometers from the maritime border claimed by Israel.

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