Seemingly out of nowhere, geopolitics have been all but turned upside down in the Middle East, thanks to the discovery of massive energy resources in Israeli territory. As a nascent Oil Power, the Jewish State is only beginning to contemplate the new dynamics of influence available to it.
The world knows Vladimir Putin as President of Russia; however, to Putin’s official title, allow me to suggest a second appellation, unofficial, but no less descriptive: Israel’s New Best Friend. Until recently, one could characterize Russia’s position vis-à-vis Israel as, at best ambivalent: cordial relations with Jerusalem on the one hand, while supplying weapons, nuclear technology and other assistance to her enemies on the other.
But Putin’s late June visit to Israel signaled, and was meant to signal, a sea-change in Russia-Israel relations — “sea” as in Mediterranean sea, where in 2009, 50 miles off the Israeli coast, geologists discovered “an estimated 8.3 tcf (trillion cubic feet) of highest-quality natural gas,” to be surpassed just a year later with the discovery of a second field, named Leviathan, of an additional 16 tcf, “making it the world’s biggest deep-water gas find in a decade” and causing Israel to go from “a gas famine to feast in a matter of months.” Other estimates put the Leviathan reserves as high as 20 tcf.
Needless to say, these discoveries could not be more timely, coming at about the same time as the Muslim Brotherhood’s ascension to power and acts of sabotage in Egypt jeopardize the reliability of natural gas supplies to Israel from that country. Who says that God does not retain a special place in his heart for His Chosen People?
But of more earthly, and material, concern than the Almighty’s mysterious affection for an ancient tribe of itinerant sheepherders, is Russian energy giant Gazprom’s love of lucrative gas extraction contracts with the Jewish state. After all, oil and gas discoveries of such magnitude are about as rare as the sight of Vladimir Putin, praying at the Western, wall in a yarmulke. Or taking the Palestinians’ side against the Israelis’ as energetically in the future as he has in the past. For, as Jerusalem Post columnist Isi Leibler notes, while Putin “heads a country which has ties and provides weapons to some of [Israel’s] greatest enemies including Iran and Syria” and “tends to support the Palestinian position, both as a member of the Quartet and at the UN”,
[Putin’s] visit to Israel unquestionably sends clear signals. Even recognizing major divergence of policies in relation to Iran and Syria, and that Putin’s tensions with the United States and interests in the Arab world preclude [Israel] from considering him a partner, it sends a message to the Arabs that Russia is not an enthusiastic ally in their efforts to undermine the Jewish state.
Or at least not while the rubles are flowing into Gazprom’s coffers, anyway. But it’s not just the Benjamins (Netanyahu or $100 bills, take your pick). Both countries share ambivalent and sometimes strained relations with Turkey; concerns about the dark side of the Arab Spring, the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood and Islamic fundamentalism; and concerns about events in Syria.
Some of Israel’s European critics might also want to rethink their anti-Israel stances and the barely disguised anti-Semitism that inspires them, or at least tone it down a bit should they want, at some future time, a piece of the Israeli oil-pie. As Victor Davis Hansen asks, “Will Europe still snub Israel when it has as much oil, gas, and money as an OPEC member in the Persian Gulf?” Well, I’m pretty sure they’ll want to, but as De Gaulle famously said, “France has no friends, only interests.” I suppose we’ll find out soon enough whether France has no enemies, either. In the meantime, Walter Russell Mead simply states the obvious when he says that ”
regardless of the simple economic impact, in different ways and different degrees the Gulf countries and Russia are going to lose a lot of the political advantages that their energy wealth now gives them. They will have less ability to restrict supply and to manipulate prices than they have had in the past. Oil and gas are going to be less special when supplies are more abundant and more broadly distributed.
To which this writer would only add: especially when a major source of these “more abundant and broadly distributed” supplies is a stable, democratic friend and ally.
And finally there is America. For Russia, it’s the traditional East-West rivalry. But for Israel, it is not so much America the country as it is her current, and hapless, president, Barack Obama and the Israel-hostile fellow travelers who populate his administration. For the first time since, perhaps, the Eisenhower administration, Israel has good reason, at least while Obama is in power, to question our reliability as an ally. And Putin has an obvious incentive to exploit Jerusalem’s doubts by moving closer to Israel in the hope of creating a concomitant distance between Israel and the U.S. Indeed, he may already be doing so (emphases below mine):
Putin’s arrival in the region must be viewed in contrast to President Obama, who has yet to visit Israel…. President Putin’s visit was clearly calculated to be the mirror image of Obama’s last visit to the region. In a similar manner, while Obama chose to talk to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in his first overseas telephone call as president, Putin and Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu spoke on the phone immediately after Putin’s return to the presidency in May. […]
What’s more, not only did Putin begin his tour of the Middle East in Israel, he also made a point in visiting holy Christian and Jewish sites, while entirely skipping the Muslim shrines. He met with Christian and Jewish religious leaders but avoided meeting any Muslim clergy. Even when visiting the Palestinian Authority, Putin chose to come toBethlehem — a Christian site — rather than Ramallah. Whereas Obama chose to reach out to Islam and the Palestinians during his famous 2009 speech in Cairo, Putin chose to appear as the defender of Christianity in the Middle East, outreaching to Judaism and playing down the Palestinian case. […]
Indeed, when [Putin] insisted on negotiations instead of unilateral steps as the right path towards the resolution of the [Israeli-Palestinian] conflict, he practically endorsed Israel’s stance on the matter.
I mention the above as a cautionary note. Israel has a lot more than oil to offer Russia — and China, and India — than oil. She also has brainpower and all the technological prowess that goes along with it, and here I mean, especially, military technology, which, I think we all can agree, our competitors and enemies would very much like to have. What Israel does not have a lot of, is money. But Russia, India and, especially, China, have oodles of the stuff, much of it formerly ours. And I would not count the Israelis themselves out, either: as more and more Israeli energy exporting infrastructure comes online, and the revenues start flowing in, Israel might, one day, have substantial funds of her own to put in the pot. Yes, Israel loves us — but do they love us enough to commit national suicide for us? Israel is a tiny country, surrounded by enemies both potential and real, and like any country in such a situation, relies on alliances and partnerships with larger ones. Which country, or countries, one allies with, however, is of considerably lesser importance when survival is the issue and let’s be brutally honest, here. If you were Benjamin Netanyahu, and Barack Obama were your ally, would you want to put all of your alliance eggs in one basket?
So as he continues to lambaste Israel on the one hand, while schmoozing Israel’s rivals and enemies on the other, and assuming that an Israeli-designed anti-missile missile could shoot down an American missile as well as it can an Arab — or Chinese, or Russian — one, President Obama might wish to ponder the geopolitical implications of the day, if it ever comes, that the Israelis decide that they don’t need us anymore.
But we were talking about oil, about how the new Israeli discoveries make Israel, for the first time in her history, both energy-independent and an increasingly desirable ally and partner for any number of rich, powerful and above all, energy-hungry, countries. So let’s look at the military implications of Israel’s emergence as an “energy superpower” and how her energy independence can benefit not just her, but us, too.
Many of us older folks remember well the Arab oil embargo of 1973, Sheik Yamani, a sweater-clad Jimmy Carter turning down the thermostat in the White House and, above all, the breathless anticipation with which the world would await the result of each price-setting meeting of the then-all powerful (or at least so it seemed) Arab oil cartel. Fortunately, we haven’t heard from the cartel in a while and with an oil-rich Israel more than happy to help her Western friends — and hurt her Arab (and Venezuelan) enemies — by ramping up her own production to offset any lost production from production reductions elsewhere, we may never hear from them again.
But of course, any introduction of new supply will push oil prices down everywhere and reduce revenues for everyone. Including, of course, Iran. So if you’re Israel, with an enemy as implacable — and oil-revenue dependent — as Iran, why wait for an embargo? Why not flood the world with as much oil, as fast, and as cheaply, you can? Need oil, mister? Oy, have I got a deal for you….
And finally, regarding Iran, there is the military application: Iran’s nuclear facilities are hidden deep underground, but her oilfields are not. Most, if not all, of Iran’s oil production infrastructure is above ground, vulnerable to attack and, oh, by the way, oil is extremely flammable. By impairing Iran’s oilfields, which the Israeli air force probably could do, Israel could bring the Iranian economy, and the Mullahs who rule it, to its and their knees. Indeed, one can only assume that the only reason the Israelis haven’t already done so is the predicted effect on oil prices and the predictable cries of outrage from the “international community” guaranteed to arise therefrom. But with Israel ready, willing and able to replace any lost Iranian oil in quantities sufficient to keep world oil prices stable or even lower…?
Since the destruction of the First Temple by the Babylonians in 586 B.C., through centuries of conquest, revolt and exile, Jews have dreamed of — and fought for, and died for — the day when a restored, militarily strong, truly independent Israel would rise and resume her rightful place among the nations of the world.
With Israel’s newfound energy supplies, and the will and wisdom to exploit those supplies to her advantage, that day may not be far off.