An Egyptian pipeline burns last April. This year, the natural gas has stopped for a different reason.(-/AFP/Getty Images)

For once, the natural gas stopped flowing from Egypt to Israel for a reason other than the pipeline’s having been sabotaged, as it has been a dozen times over the past 15 months. Over the weekend, Egypt shut off the energy because of what it called a payment dispute, soon offering to turn the faucet back on for a higher price. It is worth noting that the old deal was pretty plainly corrupt: a system that sold the gas at below-market value and reportedly involved kickbacks to deposed President Mubarak’s sons and cronies. It’s also worth noting that all the disruptions have conditioned Israel to be able to make do without Egyptian gas (“I think this formalizes a situation which has already existed for a year,” one expert told the Jerusalem Post). And, it’s true that Egypt disavowed politics as a motive for the decision, and Prime Minister Netanyahu confirmed this. Really, the whole thing was probably inevitable, and is practically of no immediate consequence.

But those caveats can’t entirely eliminate the fact that the gas deal has been something of a pillar of the broader, crucial Israel-Egypt peace—a perpetual confidence-building measure, if you will—and that removing it weakens that peace. Haaretz’ Zvi Bar’el notes that the gas deal has been seen as part and parcel of the Camp David Accords as well as a symbol of Egypt’s control of the Sinai. The Accords forbid the full remilitarization of the peninsula Israel captured in the 1967 War, but since the January 2011 uprising Egypt has lost control of it, and it has become a haven for smuggling, sabotage, and terrorism—there was even the fatal attack Israelis last summer, which was launched by Gazans who slipped into Sinai and from there into southern Israel, and which soon precipitated the largest post-Mubarak diplomatic incident between the two countries. Already, there’s a new reported threat from the Sinai.

“Thus,” Bar’el concludes, “even if it turns out that a business dispute and not the failed fight to keep the flow of natural gas flowing against the saboteurs in the Sinai are what caused the termination of the deal, Egypt’s regime may find itself in the midst of a political storm, criticized for neglecting the nation’s vital interests and losing its grip on the eastern peninsula.” Sometimes gas is just gas, but this isn’t one of those times.

Egypt Cancels the Delivery of Gas to Israel [NYT]
Egypt Offers to Sell Gas to Israel at New Price [Haaretz]
‘Israel Accustomed to Coping Without Egypt Gas’ [JPost]
Egypt’s Cancellation of Gas Sales to Israel Was Inevitable [Christian Science Monitor]
Termination of Israeli-Egyptian Natural Gas Agreement Serves Dangerous Precedent [Haaretz]
Earlier: For Israel, Gas to Come Less Naturally