On Wednesday, September 18th, Dr. Sujata Ashwarya came to speak at IWP about Israel’s energy security and strategy.
Dr. Ashwarya is an Associate Professor at the Centre for West Asian Studies [Middle Eastern], Jamia Millia Islamia, New Delhi, India. She has her MPhil and Ph.D. in Western Asian Studies from Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi. Dr. Ashwarya has published over 30 research articles and has edited and co-edited five books. While speaking at IWP, Dr. Ashwarya discussed the topics from her most recent book, Israel’s Mediterranean Gas: Domestic Governance, Economic Impact, and Strategic Implications.
She explained that Israel used to be energy poor, dependent on oil exports, and vulnerable to energy shortage. However, according to Dr. Ashwarya, that changed in 1999 when natural gas was discovered in the Mediterranean Sea. As of 2017, 63 percent of Israel’s electricity is powered by gas.
Security of the energy supply is a huge concern for Israeli policymakers. Dr. Ashwarya outlined Israel’s energy security strategy in six parts: broadening of imports, proximity of source, search for indigenous supply source, diversification of oil supply, physical security of energy installations, and energy relations with neighbors and export.
The first part of Israel’s energy security strategy is the broadening of imports. Dr. Ashwarya explained the importance of importing energy from countries outside the “arc of instability.” She specified that Israel searched for exporters outside of the Middle East and Central Asia, such as South Africa, Poland, and Columbia. She noted that Israel has never publicly declared who their oil suppliers are.
Dr. Ashwarya then examined the second part of Israel’s energy security strategy, the proximity of source. She explained that Israel aimed to find oil exporters that were closer to them. For example, Iran used to be Israel’s main oil supplier until 1979. However, finding oil suppliers in the Middle East with whom to forge relationships proved to be difficult because of the geopolitical tensions that Israel has with its neighbors.
The third part of Israel’s energy security strategy focused on searching for an indigenous supply source. This part of the strategy did not prove to be successful until recently. In the 1950s-1960s, Israel searched for its own energy source without much success. However, because the Middle East was rich with oil, the Israelis insisted that they, too, possessed their own energy source. In 1999, Israel finally discovered natural gas, and 2004 marked the beginning of natural gas use in Israel.
The fourth part of Israel’s strategy is the diversification of oil supply. Dr. Ashwarya spoke about how Israel has started looking for more renewable options for energy. In 50 years, Israel aims to reduce coal for electricity production and slowly eliminate the use of oil in the transportation sector. However, Israel has lagged in using renewable energy compared to other countries in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). Israel has been slowed down by bureaucratic impotencies and lack of incentive, but the 2016 Paris Agreement to combat climate change has pushed the nation to search for more renewable energy.
The fifth part of Israel’s strategy is its physical security of energy installations. Dr. Ashwarya explained that Israel’s offshore gas infrastructures are especially vulnerable to attack by their enemies because they are very large, and their location offshore makes it difficult to protect them. To protect these infrastructures, Israel ordered German-made Sa’ar warships. Additionally, the U.S. and the Pentagon approved the purchase of eight Sikorsky helicopters.
Lastly, Dr. Ashwarya examined Israel’s strategy of securing energy relations with neighbors through exports. The goal is for Israel to leverage gas exports to its neighbors to improve its political relationships. Israel has direct pipelines to Jordan, Egypt, and Turkey and is considering building a pipeline to Egypt. However, Dr. Ashwarya raised the question of whether supplying energy to its neighbors will be enough for them to keep peace with Israel.
“But can economics outflank politics?” she asked. “Will drill politics underpinned by gas requirements and security lead Israel’s recent enemies to ignore what has impeded their relations for a long time?”