Commentary Magazine


Israel’s Energy Dilemma

To the Editor:
Arthur Herman’s article “Will Israel Be the Next Energy Superpower?” impressively marshals economic data and paints a compelling picture [March]. Unfortunately, it ignores entirely the true opposition to shale oil and other such projects. Reading Mr. Herman, one would think that some narrow-minded environmentalists are merely worried about small effects like spoiled vistas and localized air or water pollution. That’s because his otherwise impressive analysis of newly discovered fossil-fuel reserves never once utters the key missing phrase: “climate change.”

The closest Mr. Herman gets is quoting the Green Zionist Alliance’s Orr Karassin as saying: “Israel’s wider interests must take precedence. And those require that the oil shale stays where it is.” But he never outlines those wider interests, though they are compelling indeed. Geopolitically as well as environmentally—via climate refugees, extreme weather, new disease vectors, and more—Israel stands to lose in a warming world whose fossil-fuel dependence will only grow in the next century. This is the robust scientific consensus, which we ignore at our peril.

Israel has long abounded in untapped energy; it’s from the sun, and Israeli start-up ingenuity (if given a fraction of the research and development that China and other countries lavish on their solar industries) could help make it accessible to Israel and to all. Pioneering a clean-energy future will make Israel a light unto the nations. Mr. Herman’s argument favors deepening fossil-fuel dependence that will, in a global market, benefit the unfriendly nations whose reserves still dwarf Israel’s. To ignore the global impact of Israel’s energy policy is not just an un-green Zionism. In the long view, it’s hardly Zionist at all.

Fred Dobb
Washington D.C.

To the Editor:

Arthur Herman has written an excellent article on the bonanza for this great little country. Being a Dutchman, I appreciated Mr. Herman’s reference to the catastrophic long-term effects of the “Dutch Illness.” Regarding Israel’s options on where to build its processing and export facilities, however, an artificial island might be considered, similar to what the Dutch built in the North Sea for Europe’s largest oil refinery/export terminal.

The Norwegians just flattened an existing island to build their offshore gas-conversion terminal. The Dutch expertise in dredging and waterworks combined with the region’s inexhaustible supply of sand might present a “Dutch Solution” for Israel’s dilemma.

Jan Grootenboer
Bensheim, Germany

Arthur Herman writes:

Fred Dobb’s suggestion that Israel would be better served shifting to solar power will run into some problems. Israel’s annual electricity consumption runs to roughly 48 terawatts. Germany, the world’s biggest solar-based electric generator, manages to get only 28 terawatts. I doubt there are enough additional sunny days in Israel to make up the difference.

The Germans have also found that going solar has helped to make their electricity bills the second highest in the world (the Danes, the world’s champions of wind power, come in first). It’s made them all the more dependent on natural gas from Russia to do the real heavy lifting for their energy needs, as we’re all learning in this Ukraine crisis.

The Germans don’t think that’s a very good deal, which is why they’re slashing government subsidies for solar. I don’t think the Israelis will, either. Besides, it seems to me they’ve already done more than their share in cutting their greenhouse-gas emissions by shifting from coal to natural gas.

As for Jan Grootenboer, I like the idea of an artificial island—although I don’t think it will make Mr. Dobb and his environmentalist friends in Israel any happier. Anything man-made is automatically suspect, even islands, and I can see certain Palestinian groups complaining to the UN that the sand was stolen from them.




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