Iraqi oil to Israeli port?
God only knows what kind of diplomatic mind games are going on with this: The United States has formally asked Israel to look into the possibility of reviving a pipeline from Iraq to Israel that's lain dormant for, well, for as long as Israel has existed. Israel's respected daily Ha'aretzreports:
The Prime Minister's Office, which views the pipeline to Haifa as a "bonus" the U.S. could give to Israel in return for its unequivocal support for the American-led campaign in Iraq, had asked the Americans for the official telegram.
The new pipeline would take oil from the Kirkuk area, where some 40 percent of Iraqi oil is produced, and transport it via Mosul, and then across Jordan to Israel. The U.S. telegram included a request for a cost estimate for repairing the Mosul-Haifa pipeline that was in use prior to 1948. During the War of Independence, the Iraqis stopped the flow of oil to Haifa and the pipeline fell into disrepair over the years.
The telegram was sent by "a senior Pentagon official," but the paper does not identify who.
It's nearly impossible to untangle who the allies and who the adversaries are in this. Northern Iraq is Kurdish territory, and Seymour Hersh reported three years ago that Israeli agents are at work in this region with the knowledge and assent of Kurdish leaders. But the Kurds have aspirations for independence, which scares the bejeezus out of Turkey, an ally of both the United States and Israel, and home to a restive Kurdish population of its own. Too, there's this to consider:
Iraqi oil is now being transported via Turkey to a small Mediterranean port near the Syrian border. The transit fee collected by Turkey is an important source of revenue for the country. This line has been damaged by sabotage twice in recent weeks and is presently out of service.
In response to rumors about the possible Kirkuk-Mosul-Haifa pipeline, Turkey has warned Israel that it would regard this development as a serious blow to Turkish-Israeli relations.
Sources in Jerusalem suggest that the American hints about the alternative pipeline are part of an attempt to apply pressure on Turkey.
Pressure for what, the article does not say. Perhaps Washington wants Ankara to back off its threats to punch into northern Iraq to take out Kurdish guerrillas using Iraq as a staging ground for attacks in Turkey.
Oh, we'll throw another complication into the mix. Kirkuk, the point of origin for this pipeline, is a multi-ethnic tinderbox the Kurds would like to claim as part of their regional government, and under the Iraqi constitution, a referendum must be held there by year's end to determine whether that should happen.
Bottom line: The Bush administration and the Israelis are stuck in the position of trying to please two allies who are effectively at odds with each other. Ain't empire swell?