The Liberia-flagged SCF Altai tanker docked at Ashkelon port early Friday and began unloading crude, according to a port source. This may be the first sale of oil by the autonomous Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) through a new pipeline to the Turkish port of Ceyhan, which was built to bypass the Iraqi national pipeline. This trade is bitterly disputed by Baghdad, which has threatened legal action against buyers. Israel has not confirmed whether it is buying the oil for its own use or storing it for transfer to another destination.

DEBKAfile reports that Israel sympathizes with the KRG’s aspirations for greater autonomy and economic prosperity independent of Baghdad and is a willing helper. Emboldened by its army’s takeover of the oil city of Kirkuk against the advancing ISIS forces, the Kurds plan to export this new source of oil through their own outlet, since the Kirkuk outlet was sabotaged. The transfer via Ceyan to Ashkelon was eased by the greatly improved relations between Ankara and Jerusalem in recent weeks.