Will Israel and Lebanon's new naval partnership last?

Although the Arab Spring hasn't won Israel many friends in the Middle East, Haaretz reported yesterday that its navy "recently strengthened its cooperation with the Lebanese Navy in the Mediterranean." The partnership, Israel hopes, will prevent provocations in the form of possible pro-Palestinian flotillas to Gaza on May 15, or Nakba Day, which commemorates "the displacement of Palestinians following the establishment of Israel in 1948, and on Naksa Day, which takes place in June and commemorates the displacement of Palestinians after the 1967 war."

It's no surprise that Israel would turn to regional multilateralism in order to avoid a repeat of the Gaza flotilla incident of 2010. According to the Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center, "pro-Palestinian activists from Sweden [have] announced their intent to organize another Gaza flotilla this year, saying they have already bought the ship."

Whether this friendly strategic cooperation will last, though, is an entirely different question. Israel and Lebanon may soon be engaged in nasty disputes over natural gas fields in the Levant Basin, which as Robin M. Mills reported for FP last year "spans not only Israel's offshore but also that of Lebanon, Cyprus, and Syria." In 2009, U.S. exploration company Noble Energy found Tamar, a deepwater field that holds 8.5 trillion cubic feet (Tcf) of natural gas. Noble discovered Leviathan, which has an aerial area of 125 square miles and contains a potential 20 Tcf, in early 2010. As Mills noted, the U.S. Geological Survey estimates that the entire basin "could contain 120 Tcf of gas, equivalent to almost half of U.S. reserves."

With Tamar set to come online in April 2013, and Leviathan expected to begin production by 2016, what is for now just a dispute over maritime borders could soon turn into a regional conflict over natural gas.

Uriel Sinai/Getty Images


Canada may launch government-backed bitcoin competitor

Writing last year on the peer-to-peer digital currency Bitcoin, I noted that while "the disruptive power of Bitcoin on banks and central governments has surely been overstated, but these institutions might be better served to take its emergence as a warning rather than a reassurance: They may not be the only game in town forever."

It seems that at least one country is taking the Bitcoin phenomenon seriously: Canada. The Canadian mint is launching research and development on its own "virtual currency" with the tasty-sounding name MintChip. Jesse Brown of MacLeans explains

Like BitCoin, it’s as anonymous as cash, leaving no electronic record of who paid what to who.  Unlike BitCoin, it’s backed by a central authority, which is bad news for the anarcho-crypto Illuminati-fearing libertarian crowd, but good news for people who actually use it. Will it be hacked? Probably. But a currency guaranteed by a wealthy and stable mint can sustain a certain amount of fraud without collapsing.  The Royal Canadian Mint has launched an app challenge to kickstart MintChip. 

I suspect that a lot of potential users -- not just "the anarcho-crypto Illuminati-fearing libertarian crowd" -- are going to wonder just how anonymous a government-backed electronic payment method will be. I'd imagine there will be at least some safeguards to prevent the underground drug markets that have given Bitcoin a bad name. 

Whatever happens, it should be an interesting experiment to watch. This is been a month of currency innovation for Canada, which announced it was eliminating the penny last week. It still has a ways to go to catch up with increasingly-cashless Sweden though.

Update: I neglected to mention the glow-in-the-dark dinosaur coin. The hits just keep coming from those wild and crazy guys at the Canadian Mint.