The atmosphere between President Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been noticeably tense since President Obama delivered his Middle East speech last Thursday; Prime Minister Netanyahu delivered his reaction to the president’s remarks. And a meeting between the two leaders at the White House last Friday seemed to do little to improve the perception, with The Wall Street Journal noting that the meeting was “viewed by some as a low point in Washington's relations with the Jewish state.”
Perhaps one area that could potentially strengthen the U.S.-Israeli relationship is around energy security. As both leaders have made pronouncements about the challenges and concerns with their nations’ dependence on fossil fuels, energy security may prove to be fertile ground to engage in greater cooperation and improve good will on both sides.
The Arab spring has heightened concerns in Israel that its reliance on its neighbors for energy resources is unsustainable. The state imports 85 percent of its energy from sources abroad. In particular, Israel imports 40 percent of its natural gas from Egypt. Since Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak resigned in February, the pipeline that shuttles this natural gas has been attacked and been forced to shut down several times.
The first successful attack in late February halted supplies to Israel for five weeks. After an unsuccessful attack in March, militants again interrupted supplies for four weeks when they bombed the pipeline in late April. This is significant when one considers that Israel pays an extra 1.5 million dollars each day for fuel when it loses access to these natural gas supplies. It’s therefore unsurprising that numerous Israeli officials have been publically advocating for Israel to bolster its energy security since the Arab spring took root.
They are not alone in this regard. Indeed, President Obama has emphasized the need to reorient U.S. energy policies given its heavy dependence on fossil fuels, especially from abroad. In a speech President Obama made at Georgetown University in March he said, “Obviously, the situation in the Middle East implicates our energy security.” The president followed up his speech by releasing his Blueprint for a Secure Energy Future.
The United States and Israel seem poised for further cooperation on energy security. Moreover, both countries have highly advanced economies particularly in the technological sphere. The potential benefits that can be accrued from a bilateral relationship in high-tech industries have been amply demonstrated from U.S.-Israeli cooperation in the defense sector. Increasing cooperation around energy security could vastly improve the development of reliable clean energy technologies while also strengthening U.S.-Israeli relations. The Obama administration should seek to engage Israel on this front.
Photo: President Obama and Israeli Prime Minister meet in the Oval Office on May 20, 2011. Courtesy of Pete Souza and the White House.