The Trans-Israel Pipeline from Ashkelon to Eilat is the real target of the increased Grad rocket fire on Ashkelon and nearby coastal areas, military sources tell DEBKAfile. Its momentum has quickened since the launch this month of a transit route for oil exports from the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) in northern Iraq via Turkey and Israel.
Islamic Jihad and other Salafist militants in Gaza are in cahoots with the Al Qaeda affiliated Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis operating out of Sinai. All are potential sources of the rocket fire and certainly have an eye on civilian targets, but the sources say the uptick of the last few days is a clear attempt to take out the new Kurdish export route. (see attached Special Map)
Islamic Jihad and Al Qaeda in Sinai are strange bedfellows – their backers, Iran and ISIS, are at loggerheads in Iraq. But they share an interest in preventing Israel from using its small oil ports, Ashkelon and Eilat, to become a major conduit for Kurdish oil. Through its geography and infrastructure, Israel has quickly become a key element in the war in Iraq and its future.
Iran wants to put a stop to oil sales out of the northern Iraqi oilfields near Kirkuk, while ISIS considers Iraqi oil to be an important war spoil and strategic asset, likewise the oilfields in eastern Syria.
ISIS is already using captured Syrian oilfields as a major source of income, bringing in some $1 billion per year. With control of Iraq’s oilfields, refineries, and pipelines, the Al Qaeda-affiliated group could easily double or triple its annual oil income.
Israel’s role puts a damper on these plans.
Both Tehran, which has its own designs on Kirkuk, and ISIS, were amazed to discover the Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan had signed onto a combined Kurdish-Turkish-Israeli concern for the new Kurdish export route. No time was lost for this transaction after the Kurdish peshmerga moved into Kirkuk as Iraqi troops fled the oncoming ISIS fighters.
The crude flows to Ceyhan, Turkey’s port city on the Mediterranean. From there it is loaded onto tankers that sail to Ashkelon, where the cargo is unloaded either into storage or poured into the 254-kilometer Trans-Israel Pipeline. Traditionally the pipeline has served companies from Russia and Central Asia who use Israel as a middleman for their sales to Asian countries. But with the arrival of the first Kurdish tankers in the past few weeks, the pipeline has begun to operate at its capacity of 20 million tons per year.
Our sources report that Kurdistan, which exports 120,000 barrels of oil a day, has already sent 2 million barrels of oil to Israel via Ceyhan. Most of this shipment is due to arrive in Ashkelon and Eilat in the coming days.
Oil industry insiders believe that Irbil pays Turkey and Israel a dollar each for every barrel that passes through their territory.
Now that the tanker channel between Turkey and Israel has opened in the service of oil, Western military sources say that the two countries’ navies have boosted their cooperation in the eastern Mediterranean to secure the channel, the tankers, and their precious cargo.
They add that Israel has put special security measures in place to bolster its defenses against terror and rocket attacks in Eilat and the Gulf of Aqaba, lest newly arrived Iranian and ISIS elements in Sinai target Eilat’s oil terminal and the tankers full of Kurdish oil.