The Tamar Prospect: Autarky Makes a Comeback

by Maskil on February 12, 2009

Like most Israeli and Jewish news sources, Israel National News carried the story of the discovery of a huge deposit of natural gas under the Mediterranean Sea near Haifa.

The report said in part that “Eighty-seven billion cubic meters, or nearly 3.1 trillion cubic feet, of high-quality gas are estimated to be in three deposits in the Tamar Drilling site, which is named for Delek owner Yitzchak Teshuva’s granddaughter.”

There is no consensus yet as to whether the Tamar Prospect will give Israel energy independence, a more diversified energy source, the prospect of greener energy or perhaps even the ability to become an energy exporter. There is little doubt, however, that having control over this natural resource will be to Israel’s benefit.

According to Wikipedia, “An autarky is an economy that is self-sufficient and does not take part in international trade, or severely limits trade with the outside world.” By this definition, autarky is a somewhat unrealistic policy, and few countries today would admit to embracing it. To do so would put one in the company of states such as North Korea. Enough said…

Even in the age of globalisation, however, the concept of “resource independence” or “resource security” (e.g. energy independence or food security) has steadily gained acceptance. Presumably this is a recognition that there will always be times when a country is unwilling or unable to trade for the resources its economy (or its war machine) requires. Or perhaps it’s just plain prudent to have some degree of self-sufficiency when it comes to vital resources. For a country with hostile neighbours (such as Israel), what might be seen by some as something of a luxury, takes on the nature of a necessity.

If resource independence or resource security is recognised as a good thing, then perhaps it’s time for Israel to define national objectives in this regard. The limitations are well known; mainly to do with Israel’s size and the concomitant scarcity of natural resources. Despite this however, it should be possible to define realistic goals for self-sufficiency, at least with regard to certain critical resources. I’d like to suggest the following as a starting point:

Armaments. Certain specialised armaments can only be obtained from their manufacturers, while Israel currently does not have the capability to design and manufacture weapons such as strike aircraft or submarines. Apart from these exceptions, however, it should be possible to achieve a much greater degree of self-sufficiency, to ensure that military operations are not held hostage to delayed arms shipments from allies or suppliers.

(Israel’s interests are hardly ever 100% aligned with those of even its closest allies, and at times it needs the ability to pursue an independent course of action (or prosecute a war to its logical conclusion). At those times, it needs to have a greater degree of self-sufficiency with regard to core armaments. I would like to hear compelling reasons why Israel can’t achieve this.)

Energy. Goals and objectives should be defined for energy conservation, diversification of energy sources, energy security and alternative (“green”) energy sources. This quote from President Obama, although it refers to the US, could apply equally to Israel:

Obama put that peril he mentioned in stark terms. He said dependence on foreign oil “bankrolls dictators, pays for nuclear proliferation and funds both sides of our struggle against terrorism. It puts the American [Israeli] people at the mercy of shifting gas prices, stifles innovation and sets back our ability to compete.”

Food. The devastating drought in Israel has highlighted the error of concentrating on crops that are “water-extensive”, and on the wisdom of agriculture as an export commodity. That doesn’t mean that Israeli agriculture should be scrapped, but rather than it should be realigned to meet the needs of domestic consumption, and on crops and farming methods that use water sparingly and efficiently.

Water. The current water crisis is giving this issue the focus it deserves. Israel should aim to achieve water security by living within the means of its resources, while also supplementing them with an aggressive program to desalinate seawater. Water wastage must be eliminated, water priced correctly and reused and recycled indefinitely. Israel’s lakes, stream and aquifers must be rehabilitated and allowing to replenish themselves for the generations and needs to come. Israel must continue extensive tree planting efforts to restore or engineer the best possible climate, vegetative cover and rainfall pattern for the country. Israel should preferably maintain a “veto” when it comes to shared water resources.

I see these four items as the baseline Israel should aim for in an effort to achieve some degree of resource independence and security. The Zionist agenda still has a number of unchecked items on it. “Autarky” in this limited sense should be seen as one of them.

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