From Russia (To Israel) With Love

Posted by Cutler on April 19, 2007
Great Power Rivalry, Israel, Right Zionists

One of the central assumptions behind discussions of the domestic political influence within the US of the “Israel Lobby” is that the power must be grounded in domestic lobbying because there is no coherent strategic rationale that justifies the “special relationship” between the US and Israeli.

One might assume that the bond between the two countries was based on shared strategic interests… Instead, the thrust of US policy in the region derives almost entirely from domestic politics, and especially the activities of the ‘Israel Lobby’…

Without minimizing the importance of domestic politics, there may be more to say about the strategic significance of Israel.

Consider the role of oil.

In a region that is home to enormous oil reserves, why favor a country that has almost no energy of its own?

Because much of the geopolitics of oil is about oil transport.

Consider, for example, an October 2006 report by the Energy Information Administration (EIA), statistical agency of the U.S. Department of Energy.

Israel has one main operational oil pipeline, known as the “Trans-Israel Pipeline” or the “Tipline,” built in 1968 to ship Iranian oil from the southern Red Sea port of Eilat to the northern Mediterranean port of Ashkelon, as a gateway to Europe. The pipeline went into disuse after relations with Iran soured in 1979. The 152-mile pipeline has a reported current capacity of 1-1.2 million bbl/d (having been expanded from 400,000 bbl/d) and 18 million barrels of storage capacity….

During 2003, the Eilat-Ashkelon Pipeline Company (EAPC) modified the pipeline to reverse flows on the 42-inch line, to facilitate Russian Caspian petroleum exports to Far East. In October 2003, it was first reported that Swiss trader Glencore would ship 1.2 million barrels of Kazakh CPC Blend crude and 600,000 barrels of sour Russian Urals through the line as an alternative to the Suez Canal, which can accommodate only smaller, “Suezmax” tankers. In July 2006, Israel also signed and agreement with the State Oil Company of Azerbaijan (SOCAR) to import and transport Azeri Light Crude through the pipeline.

That brief EIA narrative raises a whole host of interesting questions.

Who, for example, might harbor the dream of restoring the original direction of the Eilat-Ashkelon pipeline as an Iranian-Israeli route that reaches Europe but bypasses Arab oil?

Who dreams of bypassing the Suez canal?

Who dreams of oil, loaded onto VLCCs (Very Large Crude Carriers) in the Red Sea for shipment to markets in Asia?

Note, too, the possibility that the Israeli pipeline route might get tangled up in the Great Power rivalry between the United States and Russia.

After all, the Azerbaijan oil that flows through the BTC pipeline is specifically designed to bypass Russian influence in the transportation of Caspian Sea oil.

But Russia is making its own play for the Israeli route, also via Turkey.

Black Sea ministers… faced conflicts over competing pipeline projects, such as Russia’s plans to expand its Blue Stream gas pipeline through Turkey to Israel and possibly Europe, which would rival the planned [US-backed] Nabucco pipeline.

One might even imagine Israel being wooed by Russia and the US.

As it was in the beginning, so shall it be in the end.


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