Kazakhstan could be Israel's best option for oil, gas supplies

Analysts predict that Al-Qaida is preparing to attack strategic oil and natural gas pipelines in ME.

Al-Qaida is making plans to attack strategic oil and natural gas pipelines and terminals in the Middle East, according to analysts at the Foreign Ministry's Research and Intelligence Center, and this could harm vital Israeli interests even if the facilities involved are located far away from the Jewish state. Israel imports nearly 300,000 barrels of oil per day from the former Soviet Union (Russia and Azerbaijan are Israel s main suppliers), Egypt, the North Sea, West Africa and Mexico, and cannot count on Middle East exporters because of the Arab-Israeli conflict. The National Infrastructures Ministry, looking for long-term energy supplies, is considering trying to get Azerbaijan and Turkey to extend the Baku-Tbilisi-Erzurum gas pipeline to Ceyhan on Turkey s Mediterranean coast. From there, gas could be transported 400 km. to Ashkelon through undersea pipelines or by tankers. Baku, Tbilisi and Erzurum are in Azerbaijan, Georgia and Turkey, respectively. There is also a plan to receive natural gas from Egypt starting in 2008, and a proposal to buy gas from the Palestinian Authority (off the Gaza coast) via British Petroleum. A year ago, MK Yosef Shagal (Israel Beiteinu) said after meeting in Baku with Azerbaijani Minister of Industry and Energy Natig Aliyev that Israeli side had proposed construction of a pipeline from Ashkelon to join the main Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline. From Ashkelon the oil could be pumped through an existing pipeline to Eilat; from there it could be shipped on to Asia. But these plans share an obvious Achilles heel. Oil pipelines are highly vulnerable to sabotage and political change in each country through which they pass. Azerbaijan is one of Israel's major oil sources. If Israel fears al-Qaida attacks, then what about Azerbaijan's southern neighbor Iran? In case of military conflict, all it would take to shut down production and transportation would be a handful of Revolutionary Guards saboteur squads. As for Georgia, its 2003 Rose Revolution left the country unstable. And if we are talking about al-Qaida, Georgia s Chechen neighbors must be taken into consideration. Turkey, finally, is a close ally, but a country where Islamic fundamentalists may come to power any minute. In light of this, analysts say Israel would do well to consider other options for a stable, permanent flow of oil and gas. There is one such source considered to be reliable, and that is Kazakhstan. It has the largest oil and gas reserves in the Caspian Sea basin and produces more than 1.5 million barrels of oil a day. It is projected to surpass the output of Qatar or Iraq by 2015. Channeling its energy resources through the Russian Black Sea port of Novorossiysk, Kazakhstan would provide a much more secure solution to Israel s energy problem. And in the future, Turkmenistan s vast gas sources will flow through Kazakhstan to the Russian pipelines, according to a recent deal signed by the three above-mentioned countries. The main risk of this solution, however, is its dependence on Russia. Russia does constitute a reliable transportation route, as selling energy is an important source of its national power. It provides excellent security for its pipelines and other infrastructures. And Israel already depends on it for much of our fossil fuels. The concern is that Russia might try to use the energy card to apply pressure. US Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman referred to this in comments at the International Energy Agency meeting in Paris on May 14. Europe needs to diversify its energy sources, he said. "There are perceptions in the West that the Kremlin is prepared to use its control over energy supplies to exert political and economic pressure on dependant customer states." The threat of Russia using its energy sources for political purposes is being raised by the leaders of the Visegrad Four Poland, Hungary, Slovakia and the Czech Republic who are afraid of Russian control of their fuel supply. They tried in vain to block the May 12 Russian-Kazakh-Turkmen deal that provided Russia with access to gas from the Caspian Sea. But to sum up, the risk of Israel being cut off from oil and gas sources by Islamic militants is much more dangerous than being subject to future Russian political pressure. Furthermore, a Kazakh-Russia supply deal would make Moscow much less eager to sell weapons to those who may harm its growing business with Israel. And if the Kazakh energy is prevented from flowing through Russia, Kazakhstan can always join the Baku-Tbilisi-Erzurum pipeline. It seems clear - the Kazakh option seems more attractive than the Egyptian and Azeri-Turkish ones.