May 26, 2011

Energy Security: The Key to Strengthening U.S.-Israeli Relations?

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
. 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
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.

President Obama and Israeli Prime Minister meet in the Oval Office on May 20,
2011. Courtesy of Pete Souza and the White House.