Russia revives Turkish-Israeli strategic partnership

May 29, 2006 02:00 AM

by Simon Araloff and Sami Rozen

On the background of active discussion by the Russian and Israeli press of the possible transaction of the natural gas sale by Russia to Israel, intensive contacts of the both sides in the other power sphere -- oil supply -- have remained absolutely unnoticed.
Meanwhile, Turkish diplomatic sources in Berlin and Brussels, whose competence does not cause any doubts, have informed the previous day, that in the nearest future the Russian-Israeli oil project may become a reality.

According to the same sources, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Israel Tsipi Livni will pay an official visit to Turkey, and one of the main issues of it is to become the potentiality of the Russian oil deliveries to Israeli market by the Baku-Ceyhan oil pipeline. The welcome of the Israeli guest will be arranged on the highest level -- Tsipi Livni will be met not only by her Turkish counterpart Abdullah Gul, but also by the head of the Turkish government Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
Turkishdiplomats have been noting that such a level of welcome testifies the seriousness of intentions of the Turkish side. They have also paid their attention to that circumstance that the next day after the visit of the Israeli Foreign Minister, Sergey Lavrov, Russian Minister of Foreign Affairs, will arrive on a two-day visit to Ankara. The Russian visitor will be informed on the details of the Turkish-Israeli negotiations on the oil issue.

According to the Turkish sources, the last two years have been difficult for the Turkish-Israeli relations. The crisis situation arisen between the two countries after the Party of Justice and Development came to power in Turkey (November 2002), and became really explosive in March, 2004, after liquidation by Israelis of sheikh Ahmed Yasin, the spiritual leader of the Palestinian organization Hamas. The present Turkish leadership, uttering the positions of the orthodox Islam, reacted on the event rather negatively.
In May, 2004 the same Abdulla Gul has even declared a possibility of recalling of the Turkish ambassador from Tel Aviv -- "for consultations". Then the participation of Israeli companies in two tenders for manufacture of military equipment for the Turkish army has been cancelled.

A month later Erdogan refused to meet with Ehud Olmert -- then still the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Industry and Trade of Israel -- on a visit to Ankara. Subsequently, however, Ankara did temper justice with mercy, after Israel declared its readiness to unilaterally leave from the sector of Gaza. However, then the Israel’s turn has already come to take offence at the Turkish leaders for their contacts with the management of the Palestinian organization Hamas.
At the same time, gradual warming of the Turkish-Israeli relations was outlined in December 2005-January 2006 when following the visit to Ankara by the chief of the Israeli General Staff Dan Halutz, Abdullah Gul visited Tel Aviv. Then the both sides have signed the joint declaration on renewal of work of the Israeli industrial zone "Erez", located on the border of the sector of Gaza, where hundreds of Palestinian workers are employed.

The Turkish government has expressed its willingness to finance this project. And here now, on the background of the Russian-Israeli contacts in the power area, it is most likely that the relations between Tel Aviv and Ankara have a chance to keep to a qualitatively new level.
However, according to Turkish sources, the future transaction -- if it will be really concluded -- has no lesser value for the relations between Ankara and Moscow. Even before the end of construction of the oil pipeline that has connected the Azerbaijan capital Baku and the Turkish Mediterranean port Ceyhan in May, 2005, experts predicted that it would not be able to work at full blast due to inability of the parties participating in the project to provide its loading by oil in the necessary amount.

For this reason, at the end of 2004 the western participants of the project have started talking aboutan opportunity to correct the situation by the means of the Russian oil. Numerous contacts with the Russian side represented by the Russian company TNK-BP had taken place.
It was considered that besides the TNK-BP other Russian companies transporting oil through Astrakhan to the Iranian port of Neka could also join the Baku-Ceyhan pipeline.

As far Israel is concerned, since the very beginning it has supported the Baku-Ceyhan project, counting to get an access to the energy carriers of the Central-Asian region with its help, and also to earn on the transit to the Far East and South Asia through the Red Sea.
This was openly declared by the former Minister of Foreign Affairs of Israel Sylvan Shalom in October, 2003, upon the end of negotiations with his Georgian counterpart Irakly Menegarishvili. In parallel, Tel Aviv probed an opportunity of connection to the project in Baku, too.

The Azerbaijan political establishment has concerned to the prospect of joining the constructing pipeline by Israel more than positively. In particular, it was repeatedly declared by Vafa Guluzade, the former foreign policy adviser to the President of Azerbaijan Heydar Aliyev, and the member of the parliament of Azerbaijan, President of the "Constitution Foundation" Alimamed Nuriev.
Thus, after the beginning of negotiations with Russia on the loading of the Baku-Ceyhan pipeline, involving of Israel in it was only a matter of time.

It is worth to note in this connection that already today more than 80 % of the oil consumed by Israel, is of the Russian origin. Still in 2001-2003 representatives of the leadership at participation of business circles of the two countries joined a dialogue on the eventual use of the old Israeli oil pipeline Ashkelon-Eilat for the Russian oil transit of at the Red Sea coast and there from -- to the Far East.
So the current contacts about the purchase of the Russian oil by Israel within the frame of the Baku-Ceyhan project are possible to be considered as a logic continuation of the old dialogue.

Meanwhile, Washington is watching with alarm the formation of the new Moscow-Ankara-Tel-Aviv energy triangle. Here one may realize more clearly that the Baku-Ceyhan project undertaken by the American initiative is becoming the lever of influence of Moscow in the region.
Active contacts of the Israeli side with the Russian gas company Gazprom do not add optimism to the Americans. It is supposed that the Russian gas would flow to Israel by the underwater Blue Stream pipeline that will be prolonged from the Turkish Black Sea port Samsun up to the Mediterranean terminal Ceyhan and there from -- to Lebanon and to Israel -- by the Turkish state gas company BOTAS and Gazprom. According to the American source in Bruxelles, the US Department of State has already informed the Israeli diplomats of their concern regarding the development of a situation, undesirable from its point of view.

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