Tue 26 Aug 2003
US asks Israel to explore reopening Iraq
By MARGARET NEIGHBOUR
THE United States has asked Israel to explore reviving a pipeline
route pumping oil from Iraq direct to the oil refineries in the
Israeli port of Haifa.
The office of the Israeli prime minister, Ariel Sharon, sees the pipeline project as a "bonus" in return for Israel´s backing of the US-led campaign in Iraq, the Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported yesterday.
The pipeline from Mosul to Haifa was a vital supply line for British forces in the Second World War. In 1941, Britain sent forces to protect the oil pipeline and overthrow the pro-German Iraqi politician who had taken power in Baghdad in a coup.
But the pipeline fell into disuse after 1948, when Iraqis stopped the flow of oil to newly independent Israel.
Since well before the Iraqi war, the history of the oil pipeline has fuelled a busy rumour mill. Critics, including Israelis, have warned that plans to revive it could play to those in the Arab world and beyond who would claim the US fought the Iraq war for oil.
With pumping stations on the old pipeline unused for more than 50 years, a new pipe would need to be laid. It would take oil from the Kirkuk area, where some 40 per cent of Iraqi oil is produced, Haaretz reported, and transport it via Mosul, and then across Jordan to Israel.
The US request came in a telegram from a senior Pentagon official, the newspaper said. Israel had asked the US for the official notification, however.
Israel´s oil imports are 12 million tonnes a year, but it continues to suffer under a trade embargo by the oil-rich Arab states of the Middle East. Some 80 per cent of Israel´s oil is bought from the former Soviet Union, the rest on the market in Rotterdam and from Egypt.
"There is no precise plan at this stage. There is a project sketched out," said the Israeli infrastructure minister´s spokesman, Joseph Paritzky. The minister is to visit Washington in two weeks to discuss energy issues.
Mr Paritzki in April ordered a feasibility study on the reopening of the pipeline.
The Jerusalem Post said Israel´s foreign ministry criticised the initiative over concern that it would fuel rumours of an Israeli-US design to control Iraq´s oil reserves, the second largest in the world after Saudi Arabia.
Haaretz quoted Mr Paritzky as saying the pipeline could pass through Jordan, which would receive a transit fee. Jordan signed peace with Israel in 1994.
Haaretz said the United States has asked Israel to check the possibility of pumping oil from Iraq to Haifa.
It quoted sources in Jerusalem suggesting that the American hints about the alternative pipeline were part of an attempt to apply pressure on Turkey.
Ankara has already dismissed the threat that would be caused by an Iraq-Israel pipeline to its own pipeline with Iraq.
"Our route is the strongest, both technically and with respect to capacity," the Turkish energy minister, Hilmi Guler, said in April.
Iraq´s acting oil minister, Thamir Ghadhban, in June denied plans to resurrect the old Mosul-Haifa pipeline. Reports that it would be reopened were "no more than rumours" he said then.
The possible change of heart may have been fuelled by sabotage of existing pipelines.
Iraqi oil is now being transported to the Mediterranean via Turkey.
But the line is presently out of service, having been sabotaged twice in recent weeks.