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ISRAEL: As turmoil in Libya is expected to raise gasoline prices, officials urge breaking the oil addiction

February 23, 2011 |  6:51 pm

As troubled regimes continue to go down, oil prices are moving up everywhere. The violent turbulence in Libya is expected to raise gasoline prices in Israel within the coming days.

The regional upheavals and energy issues barged into an open door in Israel, as gasoline prices have been a matter of public concern in recent weeks. A taxation tweak resulted in a series of price hikes that brought the price of gasoline to new highs in recent weeks and sent Israelis into a rage, with Facebook campaigns as well as less advanced modes of protest, such as a horse-and-carriage in the streets of one city.

It also put politicians on guard. After warnings that this could ultimately bring down the government, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced a perk-package to the public to offset rising prices and stave off the threat of a general strike. Now it looks like gasoline prices will go back up and Israelis will have to blame another leader for it.

The recent unrest throughout the region has made energy the topic du jour. The pipeline supplying Israel with natural gas from Egypt was shut down after it was sabotaged. To compensate for Egyptian gas -- 40% of Israel's consumption -- the country has doubled pumping from its one operational natural gas field, approaching depletion. If Egypt doesn't renew the gas supply, Israel will have to switch to other sources for energy, which will raise the price of electricity.

Between Egypt's gas-out and the Libya effect on oil, Israelis may soon be feeling the pinch as the price of instability makes its way up the food chain to transportation prices, commodities, airfares and the tourism industry.

The government has already been giving energy diversity much thought, with a national plan to develop alternative sources to wean transportation from its dependence on oil. Unlike electricity, largely produced oil-free, transportation in Israel relies nearly exclusively on oil.

In addition, Israel has its sights on producing 10% of the country's energy from renewable sources by the end of the decade. Next stop is solar energy, a logical move for a country with more than 300 sunny days a year.

The Renewable Energy Conference held this week couldn't have been a more timely opportunity to tie it all together.

Every time we stop for gas and pull out our wallets, part of our money goes to terror organizations, said Minister of National Infrastructure Uzi Landau at the conference Wednesday. "The money goes to Al Qaeda, Hamas and Iran," said Landau, equating buying fuel with fueling the enemy. But if part of the Arab world is hooked on the money, others must kick the habit. Oil is a powerful weapon in the struggle for the democratic world's future, and the way to win this battle is to become energy-independent.

Other officials have made a similar connection between turmoil and oil in recent days. This week, Minister for Regional Development Silvan Shalom said the real battle being waged is over hegemony in the Middle East and who gets to be the "landlord." The world needs to unite to prevent Iran from turning the Middle East into a hostile region and "taking over the world's oil reserves for the next 150 years," he said on radio.


"We all want to see freedom and democracy flourish in the Arab world," said Netanyahu this week. "We do not want to see tyranny that will trample human rights, block democratic reforms and threaten peace. Nothing would make us happier than advancing democracy in our area; this is good for peace, prosperity and security," he said. Supporters of democracy everywhere needed to be strengthened, including in Iran, which -- the prime minister warned -- might exploit the earthquake shaking the entire region to destroy any chance of democratic reforms "and turn out the lights."


-- Batsheva Sobelman in Jerusalem.