Pipeline Politics: Israel

Details were released last week concerning an advanced proposal for a pipeline from Turkey to Israel, which would provide Israel with a new source of natural gas, oil, electricity and water. The project is a notable development in Turkish-Israeli relations during a month that has been highlighted by Shimon Perez's diplomatically significant visit to Ankara today.

(Please review either this article from Zaman for the Turkish perspective or this piece from the Jerusalem Post for an Israeli view of the proposed pipeline.)

If the proposed connection is indeed constructed, this project will represent an intriguing addition to Turkey's growing web of energy pipelines. As an estranged member of the Muslim Middle East, it has been relatively easy for secular Turkey to cultivate a relationship with financially capable and technologically advanced Israel. Perez's invitation to Ankara, which was officially offered by President Gül, reflects the degree to which Turkey's supposed "neo-Islamists" are distinct from other political movements in the Middle East. Perhaps to a lesser extent, the move underscores the historic mistrust that undermines Turkic-Arab solidarity whether in Anatolia, the Caucasus or in Muslim Central Asia.

While the deal appears to be mutually beneficial in terms of Turkey adding a new market to its energy transfer network and Israel diversifying its energy needs, this observer is skeptical of the greater oil export applications for the pipeline suggested in the Jerusalem Post article. In particular, it is unclear what basis there is for the assertion that it is "more practical" to deliver oil to Asian markets via Israel compared to overland routes.

First of all, this observer wonders what real advantages oil transited through Israel has over shipping it from the Turkish terminal at Ceyhan and onto Asia through the proven Suez Canal route. Since the oil will originate in either Iraq or the Caspian Sea, it furthermore seems rather odd to first move the oil west to Ceyhan and then south to Israel and finally onto a destination in Asia. It would make far more sense to ship the oil from Basra or from a port in Pakistan through the growing network of pipelines crossing that country.

It is ultimately of little concern to Turkey whether or not such dreams of exporting oil to the "Far East" via Israel are in fact realized. Of far greater importance is the considerable geopolitical leverage Turkey will acquire through this increased cooperation with Israel. If the proposed pipeline proves successful, Israel will ultimately come to depend on it for a relatively significant portion of its subsistence. Therefore, Turkey will possess a greater means to "lean on" Israel for certain types of military or diplomatic support that the US or Europe will otherwise be reluctant to provide.

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