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The leader of Hezbollah declared “open war” against Israel on Friday following the bombing of his offices in Beirut, Lebanon. The president of Iran has announced that if Israel were to expand the hostilities by attacking Syria, that would represent “an attack on the whole Islamic world and the regime will face a crushing response.” Given the grim state of Arab-Israeli relations, where does Israel get its oil?
From Russia and former Soviet republics. Israel produces only a couple thousand barrels of oil a day, which means it relies on the global market for more than 99 percent of its consumption. It’s difficult to name all of the country’s suppliers—in 2004, Israel’s minister of national infrastructures admitted that “Israel’s situation is complicated. We don’t have diplomatic relations with most of the countries from which we import oil.” But over the past 25 years, significant fuel imports have come from Angola, Colombia, Mexico, Egypt, and Norway. In more recent times, the Israelis have turned to Russia, Kazakhstan, and some of the other -stans for the bulk of their oil.
Israel has long sought a local source of oil, especially since the oil crisis of 1973. Having a nearby supplier would increase Israel’s energy security and reduce the cost of its imports. Iran filled that need for a while: Starting in 1968, the Israelis used a pipe called the “TIPline” to import Iranian oil from the Red Sea. But the shah was overthrown in 1979, and Iran shut off the tap. (These days, Israel lets the Russians use the TIPline to pump oil in the opposite direction.)
The Israelis gained access to another local source when they took control of Egyptian oil fields in Sinai after the Six-Day War. When Israel agreed to return the fields in 1979, they wanted broad assurances about their access to oil imports. The peace treaty with Egypt stipulated that “Israel shall be fully entitled to make bids for Egyptian-origin oil not needed for Egyptian domestic oil consumption.” An accompanying document outlined a deal with the United States that ensured Israeli oil supplies in times of crisis.
Egypt continues to provide oil, but its importance as a supplier has diminished as Israel’s appetite has grown. In 1995, Egyptian oil accounted for one-third of Israel’s fuel imports; by 2000 that fraction had shrunk to one-eighth. While Israel was forced to look elsewhere for oil, it maintained a warm relationship with Egypt, at least regarding energy. In 2005, the two countries signed an agreement on the trade of natural gas.
Meanwhile, Israel continues to seek nearby suppliers. In the lead-up to the war in Iraq, there was some talk of restarting an abandoned pipeline that runs from Mosul, Iraq, to Haifa. In order for this to happen, Israel would need to somehow wrangle the support of the Syrians, since they control part of the route.
The Israelis have also tried to ramp up their own fuel production. A few weeks ago, they got some press for developing a new way to extract energy from the country’s large reserves of “oil shale.”
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Explainer thanks Scott Lasensky of the United States Institute of Peace.