JERUSALEM, Feb. 14 (UPI) -- Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu made an unprecedented appearance in his country's Supreme Court Sunday to defend a controversial natural gas extraction deal with U.S. and Israeli investors.
The deal, signed in December between Israel and a consortium of companies -- including U.S. firm Noble Energy and Israel's Delek Group -- would enable development of the Tamar and Leviathan gas fields, discovered in 2009 and 2010, respectively, off Israel's Mediterranean coast.
Israel's anti-trust commission rejected the initial gas deal, saying it constituted a monopoly. After months of further negotiation, the new deal was signed Dec. 17 with Noble and Delek agreeing to sell some of their assets.
However, opponents said the arrangement favors the companies involved over the Israeli people.
Netanyahu filed an affidavit last week, defending his gas policy from five petitions filed by various opposition politicians and non-governmental organizations. The prime minister reportedly said "there is no other realistic option" to extract the country's natural gas resources.
As well as holding the post of prime minister, Netanyahu is also Israel's acting economy minister, a position he recently took over after Aryeh Deri, the previous official to hold the position, resigned after refusing to overrule anti-trust authorities.
A clause in Israeli law allows the economy minister to bypass rulings by the country's anti-trust commission.
The Jerusalem Post quoted Netanyahu as saying Sunday he decided to use his authority as economy minister after he became "convinced that there was an essential need for the quick rescue of the natural gas market in Israel."
Netanyahu went on to argue the deal would not only provide economic incentives for resource-scarce Israel but also represented a national security challenge, as investor nations such as Cyprus and Greece might turn to Israel's enemies for natural gas purchases.
Dozens of protesters -- many carrying signs and wearing costumes depicting unflattering representations of Netanyahu -- appeared outside the court Sunday, and several were blocked from entering the hall at the outset of the proceedings.
Shelly Yacimovich of the Zionist Union, a center-left political alliance, said the prime minister's real motivation was to satisfy the deal's investors and his economic allies.
She accused Netanyahu of providing a dishonest representation of the facts and characterized his affidavit as "another unprecedented step in a series of power-grabbing steps."
Likewise, Meretz party leader Zehava Galon reportedly said "the prime minister is panicking and wants to use his political power to intimidate the court using this unprofessional affidavit which adds nothing new."