By Harry Papachristou
ATHENS (Reuters) - Israel is willing to sell some of its new natural gas bonanza to Arab neighbors, in the hope this will improve relations in the troubled region, the country's energy minister said on Wednesday.
Gas production is set to soar in Israel following the discovery of some of the world's largest offshore reserves.
If the country decides later this year to sell some of its future gas production abroad, it will want neighboring Jordan and the Palestinians to be among its first customers, Israeli Energy Minister Uzi Landau told Reuters.
"We definitely have an interest to promote that as much as we can... I see that as something important to promote peace," Landau said in an interview on the sidelines of an energy conference in Athens.
"We all wish to get off the hook of the oil lords in the world... it's not just Westerners that are hit by that - also Muslim countries that have no oil are hit," Landau said.
EXPERTS' RECOMMENDATION EXPECTED SHORTLY
Israeli-U.S. groups led by Texas-based Noble Energy and Israel's Delek Energy have discovered two large gas fields off the country's coast - Tamar, with reserves estimated at 9.1 trillion cubic feet, and the nearly twice as big Leviathan.
An experts' panel will shortly submit its recommendations as to how Israel should use these deposits. "It (the report) is due in a few days," Landau said.
Based on the report and a public consultation that will follow, Israel will decide what it will do with its deposits. Among the ideas floating is to sell it abroad, to use it domestically for electricity or petrochemicals production or to replace oil use in transport, Landau said.
If Israel decides to export some of it, it would sell at least 5-7 billion cubic meters each year - the size that can be processed by an natural gas liquefaction (LNG) plant, Landau said. "If there is going to be some exports, it will be at least on that level," he said.
First exports would be in between five and 10 years, he estimated.
Exploration companies have been lobbying hard to be able to sell Israeli gas abroad. In an another interview in January, Landau said that before starting exports, Israel would need to secure gas for domestic use for 30-40 years.
(Editing by James Jukwey)