Sunday, April 30, 2006

JERUSALEM — Leaders in Israel and Turkey envision a network of four underwater pipelines for transporting Russian oil and natural gas, with feeder lines to Jordan, the Palestinian Authority and Lebanon.

The joint Turkish-Israeli development plan holds the promise of accelerating economic growth in the Middle East. A $50 million feasibility study is financed by the Luxembourg-based European Investment Bank, officials from Turkey and Israel say.

India is a main backer of the proposed network of pipelines because of the energy needs of its fast-growing economy.

Delivery of oil and natural gas by means of pipelines that traverse Turkey and Israel through conduits beneath the eastern Mediterranean is considered more practical than an overland route across turbulent Central Asia.

“Turkey gets most of its natural gas from Russia,” said Gabriel Levy, a senior official at the Israeli Ministry of Infrastructure here, noting that a pipeline conveys the gas beneath the Black Sea to Ankara, the Turkish capital. “Russia and Turkey decided they should have another customer.”

Israel would be a major beneficiary of a pipeline network, Mr. Levy said. He predicted that by 2010, 40 percent of Israel’s energy needs will be filled by imported natural gas.

In Tel Aviv, the Turkish Embassy’s deputy chief of mission, Mehmet Kemal Bozay, also was enthusiastic about a “long-range project” that eventually could serve Lebanon, Jordan and the Palestinian Authority as well.

A seasoned diplomat who served in Tehran and at U.N. headquarters in New York, Mr. Bozay stressed the ecological advantages of using pipelines rather than tankers to transfer crude oil from country to country.

“We don’t want any more tankers sailing through the Bosphorus,” he said, referring to the congested international waterway that separates the European and Asian segments of Turkey.

Gazprom, the giant Russian energy conglomerate, also backs the multiple pipelines scheme. As the world’s leading exporter of natural gas and the eighth-biggest oil company, Gazprom has eyed Israel as a potential market.

Israel already imports a substantial percentage of its crude oil from Russia; it is processed at giant refineries outside Haifa.

The chairman of Gazprom’s management committee, Alexey Miller, conferred recently with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert on the supply of Russian oil and natural gas, as well as transshipment of oil to India.

“[Mr.] Miller suggested that the projected conduits have feeder lines to other prospective regional recipients, providing Israel agrees,” Mr. Levy said.

Mr. Olmert and Mr. Miller agreed that shipment through Israel would be less costly than through the Suez Canal, which can accommodate tankers carrying a maximum of 220,000 tons of oil.

Israel’s Eilat-Ashkelon Pipeline Co. proposed to Indian authorities that it could serve as the overland carrier of Russian crude bound for the Indian market.

Pipelines also could be used to transport water. Soaring fuel costs for seaborne water tankers prompted cancellation earlier this month of a Turkish-Israeli agreement for Israel to buy 50 million cubic meters of water a year from Turkey for the next 20 years.

Shipment by tanker, as originally contemplated, would make Turkish water cost twice as much as water desalinated in Israel.

Mr. Bozay also foresaw creation of a regional electricity grid, enabling Turkey and Israel to supply one another with surplus power.

“We have been checking the crush hours in both countries,” he said, “and are investigating the technical requirements for electricity cables and transmissions to connect the two countries.”

Mr. Levy and Mr. Bozay said cooperation between stable countries could serve as a tool to cool down regional crises.

“Civilian projects enhance peace,” Mr. Levy said.

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