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Israel’s long-awaited sovereign wealth fund to start on June 1

Leviathan natural gas field REUTERS/Amir Cohen
Production platform of Israel's Leviathan gas field, seen on June 9, 2021. The field is now online

Israel’s long-delayed sovereign wealth fund can begin operating on June 1 now taxes on profits from natural gas have passed 1 billion shekels ($301 million), the country’s Finance Ministry and Tax Authority said on Monday.

Finance minister Avigdor Lieberman will sign an order to transfer 1.14 billion shekels in levies to the fund on Wednesday, the two agencies said.

Israel discovered huge deposits of natural gas in the east Mediterranean a decade ago and major production began in 2013.

The fund, aimed at insulating an overheated currency from the sudden expansion in national wealth, was set up in 2014 and was supposed to begin operating in 2018. Political turmoil and a slower stream of revenue led to delays, however.

It is not yet clear what the fund might invest in, but analysts believe it will look at stocks and corporate bonds on international markets, and gradually bring profits back into Israel. The Bank of Israel, the country’s central bank, will manage the fund.

Some 3.5 percent of the 1.14 billion shekel total, or 40 million shekels, will be allocated for social, economic and educational purposes, in accordance with a bill that the government will submit to parliament, the statement said.

“The money is returning to the citizens,” Lieberman said.

The fund reached its 1 billion shekel minimum thanks to gas sales last year from the offshore Tamar field, according to the statement. The larger Leviathan field has now also come online, selling gas to Israel, Egypt and Jordan.

The Tax Authority said it was holding close to another 1 billion shekels from levies whose status is not yet final.

Earlier this year, Lieberman had estimated that the 1 billion shekel minimum would be met and the fund would begin operations in September.