That Israel and other nations were buying oil from the Kurdish republic of Iraq had been published before and was no secret. The Financial Times broke its “discovery” Sunday, Aug. 23, just by chance? on the day that Britain and Iran reopened their respective embassies in Tehran and London after a four-year breach resulting from a mob attack on the Tehran embassy.
Even before sanctions were lifted and Tehran had demonstrated its compliance with the nuclear deal signed with the world powers in Vienna on July 14, European ministers were knocking on the door in a quest for financial relations. The Islamic Republic was deemed rehabilitated by the nuclear accord; and the UK saw no reason to lag behind the others. And so Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond was personally in attendance at the ceremonial reopening Sunday of the Tehran embassy.
The FT’s report’s timing fitting in perfectly with the British government’s plans to quickly develop profitable ties with the Islamic Republic in the following arenas:
1. The oil industries in Iran and Iraq. London seeks as large a slice as possible of the $150 billion worth of oil and gas contracts on offer by Tehran.
2. The Islamic Republic was also meant to infer from the FT report that British intelligence resources and its powerful media were available as tools for beating Israel out on the world’s energy markets.
3. Britain’s foreign policy is grounded in accentuating its common interests with Washington. The Obama administration may pose as a champion of Masoud Barzani, President of the autonomous Kurdish Republic of northern Iraq. His peshmerga army has after all distinguished itself in its dogged fight against the Islamic State. But in practice, things are different: the US administration, to meet the wishes of Tehran and Baghdad, consistently withholds from the Kurds the heavy weapons they need to rout ISIS.
The pejorative depiction of Israel’s purchase of Kurdish oil was meant to gain London points – not just with Iran and Iraq, but also with the Obama White House.
In serving this purpose, The Financial Times found no editorial need to fill in the pertinent Middle East background of the trade.
Exactly a year ago, debkafile discovered and reported that Kurdish oil was being delivered to Israel. Several media discovered an American warship that was described at the time as stalking the United Kalvyrta tanker which carried a million barrels of Kurdish oil. The warship planned to prevent the oil being unloaded at any port, since Washington viewed the cargo as the legal property of the Iraqi government – not the KRG which had put it up for sale. Had the oil reached its purchasers, it would have been nearly impossible to cut off Kurdistan’s export trade to clients outside Iraq.
This American step was part and parcel of the US negotiating tactics for a nuclear accord, then at one of their critical moments. The Obama administration was anxious to show Tehran how closely the US would play ball with Iran and Shiite-dominated Iraq on the vital issue of oil, once the nuclear accord was in the bag.
But the episode did not pan out as expected.
This is what happened: “The partially full Kamari tanker carrying Kurdish crude oil disappeared from satellite tracking north of Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula. Two days later, the empty vessel reappeared near Israel.”
No one in the trade doubted for a moment that the vanishing oil had been unloaded at an Israeli port.
In reporting this at the time, a debkafile map traced the freight’s route from the Turkish port of Ceyhan, the terminus of the oil pipeline from the Kurdish-controlled oilfields of Kirkuk, to the Israeli port of Ashkelon.
That was the missing background of the Financial Times story, which led up to its conclusion that Kurdish oil accounts for 77 percent of Israel’s consumption, totalling around a quarter of a million bpd. Between May and August this year, the Haifa refineries are said to have handled 19 million barrels of oil sourced to Kurdistan.
Since all matters relating to energy are made in Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s office, it stands to reason that the decision to buy oil from the KRG came from the top.
Netanyahu’s readiness to go head to head with the Obama administration on this issue hat two motives:
First, Kurdish oil was cheap. Irbil denies undercutting the market, but debkafile’s sources report that it was willing to do so in the case of Israel.
Second, the Netanyahu government and the Obama administration don’t see to eye to eye not just on nuclear Iran, but on Middle East policy in general – and the autonomous Kurdish republic of Iraq, in particular. The prime minister intended for Barzani to use this oil revenue to buy the arms he needs to fight ISIS to the finish.
At the time of this decision, crude had soared past $100 on the world market, and Islamic State forces were advancing on the Kurdish capital of Irbil. Washington may have countenanced Mosul’s fall to jihadist forces, but Israel was determined to prevent the fall of friendly Irbil.
This week, as Netanyahu marked the first 100 days of his fourth term as prime minister, his critics described him as weak and lacking in accomplishments. The Kurdish enterprise was one of several cases in which he quietly took a strong initiative.