x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Israelis devise a new oil weapon

Tel Aviv unveils green technologies strategy for crippling oil-producing states and groups resisting the occupation of Palestinian land.

Workers build Israel's first hybrid solar power station in the Negev desert, where companies are competing to create more efficient technologies and tap into the multibillion dollar clean energy market.
Workers build Israel's first hybrid solar power station in the Negev desert, where companies are competing to create more efficient technologies and tap into the multibillion dollar clean energy market.

NAZARETH, ISRAEL // Uzi Landau, Israel's infrastructures minister, outlined a vision of a world without oil last week in a speech to Israel's most loyal supporters in Washington as he searched for wealthy Jewish-American investors and White House support for a green technologies strategy. Analysts say the plan's chief goals are to cripple the large oil-producing states, particularly Iran, which is seen as Israel's main rival in the region, and resistance groups that oppose Israel's long-term occupation of Palestinian land.

"Israel hopes that by repackaging the 'war on terror' in this way it can gain sympathy in the West and deflect increasing expectations that it make concessions to solve the conflict with the Palestinians," said Avner de Shalit, a politics professor at Hebrew University in Jerusalem. Thousands of delegates at last week's annual conference of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (Aipac), the most powerful pro-Israel lobby group in the United States, heard Mr Landau describe the Israeli strategy as the best way to win the "war on terror".

The conference was attended by many senior US officials including Hillary Clinton, the secretary of state. Without money from oil, Mr Landau argued, Iran would fade as a regional power and "terror groups" such as Hamas in Gaza and Hizbollah in Lebanon would cease to exist. Instead, Israel could serve as an alternative "powerhouse" in the Middle East for environmentally friendly energy sources. Both Israel and the United States are determined to isolate Iran, which they claim is trying to develop a nuclear weapons programme to rival Israel's own nuclear arsenal. The White House is seeking to impose stiff sanctions, whereas Israel is believed to favour a military strike.

Israel failed to crush Hamas and Hizbollah, two resistance groups that are backed by Iran, during attacks on the Gaza Strip last year and on Lebanon in 2006. In a session titled Breaking the habit: Can US-Israel co-operation reduce our oil dependence?, Mr Landau appealed to the United States to join Israel in eradicating oil dependency as a way to defeat terrorism. Mr Landau is known to be acting on the direct instructions of Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, who announced in October a "national project" to end the world's reliance on oil within a decade.

At the same time Mr Netanyahu gave responsibility to the National Economic Council, a think tank inside his office, to develop "breakthrough" inventions that would eradicate the world's need for oil and coal-based electricity. "Dependence on fossil fuels strengthens the - regimes that encourage instability - with their petrodollars," Mr Netanyahu told the cabinet as he unveiled the plan. Gideon Bromberg, the head of the Israeli green group Friends of the Earth, said Israel had a very poor record on environmental issues, but that he welcomed Mr Netanyahu's belated interest "even if it is for the wrong reasons".

"He is an opportunist and recognises that oil brings power," Mr Bromberg said. "If you can find an alternative to it, you make yourself more powerful and make your enemies weaker." Haaretz newspaper has reported that Mr Netanyahu hopes that new green technologies will allow Israel to strengthen its ties with China, which the government believes is the rising global power and less interested in the Palestinians and Israel's occupation than the United States and Europe are.

Although Israel has developed new solar energy and water technologies, Mr Netanyahu is reported to want a revolution in fuels used in transport, which accounts for a large proportion of oil use. Israeli companies are already involved in researching battery technologies for cars. There are strong indications that Israel's green technologies drive is related to plans developed by US neoconservative groups in the build-up to the attack on Iraq. Mr Netanyahu is known to have maintained close ties to neoconservatives in the United States.

Some of these groups lobbied the previous administration of George W Bush to invade Iraq so that its oilfields could be privatised and the international markets flooded with oil. According to the reasoning of officials at one influential think tank, the Heritage Foundation in Washington, privatisation would drive down oil prices, break up Opec, and drain money away from "terror groups". Some neocons regarded this policy as particularly beneficial to Israel, because it would starve Hamas and Hizbollah of funds and take the pressure off Israel to end the occupation.

In practice, however, the occupation of Iraq did not help Israel. Funding to Hizbollah and Hamas instead appears to be provided by Iran. foreign.desk@thenational.ae