When Israeli economists contemplate their country's untapped natural gas finds far out in the Mediterranean, they dream of energy independence and lucrative export deals.
Those charged with Israel's defense, however, worry that the navy - small and long a middling priority in budgets - may be hard put to protect the multinational drilling platforms and rigs out at sea.
"We will do our best, but without a major boost to our capabilities, our best will not be enough," a senior military planner said in one of a series of Reuters interviews with Israeli decision-makers on the subject.
That all spoke on condition of anonymity indicates concern that such doubts over security might scare off investors and, perhaps, even encourage sea-borne attacks by Hezbollah, the Iranian-backed Lebanese guerrilla movement hostile to Israel and to its exploration of gas fields also claimed by Beirut.
There are internal political considerations, too. With Middle East instability spiraling, Israel's Finance Ministry is poring over an unwieldy plan for fiscal cuts combined with new spending on national security. The navy is lobbying for cash but is loath to challenge Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu openly.
Maps and other dry facts speak amply.
The huge gas fields centered 130 km (80 miles) from the port of Haifa in northern Israel, along with Yam Thetis, the existing gas-production rig just off Ashkelon in the south, make for a body of water covering 23,000 square km (9,000 square miles) - more than Israel's territory on land.
Guerrilla raids from the north appear the main threat, with Palestinian Hamas militants penned in Gaza to the south and rumbling discontent from the Lebanese government over Israel's drawing of a maritime border unlikely to take a military turn.
Providing rapid response in an emergency would strain the Israeli fleet of three corvettes - which have a crew of about 70 and can carry helicopters - 10 other missile boats and fast patrol vessels, and three diesel submarines, not least given their existing roles of enforcing the Gaza Strip blockade and the occasional foray through the Suez Canal to the Red Sea.
"You would need to have at least two missile boats in the vicinity of the rigs at all time," said a senior officer.
Another declined to give a specific number, saying only the navy required "several" new vessels to meet future missions.
That would mean major expansion of the fleet - a tall order, not least as Israel bought another submarine for $335 million in March.
Visiting Israeli joint defense headquarters in Tel Aviv reveals the navy's junior status, its cramped command centre overshadowed by the marbled tower of the well-funded air force.
The navy also faces skepticism from an Israeli cabinet stiff with former army generals and a finance minister, Yuval Steinitz, who is a civilian expert on maritime security.
In the spirit of what Israelis mordantly call their "ad-hocracy", an unwillingness to spend on things that seem less pressing, the government may not agree with naval commanders about the urgency of protecting gas fields which are years away from being fully exploited and operational.
One of the handful of gas development projects under way, Tamar, has finished a well 70 km (45 miles) from Haifa. An underwater pipeline will run from there to a production rig that will be erected next to Yam Thetis, 25 km (15 miles) from Israel's southern coast, by July 2013.
Another project, Leviathan, is 130 km (80 miles) off Haifa - a remoteness from shore that would itself appear to provide protection from guerrilla raids - and is not expected to produce gas before 2017. A number of firms hope to find undersea oil reserves, as well as the gas.
Robin Mills, head of consulting at Manaar Energy in Dubai, predicted an eventual increase in such activity off Israel and Cyprus, with several new exploration wells supported by supply ships and pipe-laying vessels.
"It won't be like the North Sea, but not a negligible presence either," Mills said. "I wouldn't say the security discussion is premature."
Asked about prospects for protecting the gas fields, a senior Finance Ministry official said only: "This is one among the Israel Defence Forces' various missions. We are confident that the IDF will successfully rise to it." Reuters