By David IsaacGolda Meir famously quipped that Moses led the Jews to the one place in the Middle East without oil. It’s ironic then that Israel Energy Initiatives’ office is located at 1 Golda Meir Boulevard in Jerusalem.
Last month the energy company pulled its first shale sample from the Zoharim drilling site southwest of Beit Shemesh. The sample, 80 centimeters long and 15 centimeters in diameter, comes out of the second largest recorded shale oil deposit in the world, which Israel happens to be sitting on.
One of the key scientists behind the process to extract oil from shale – essentially heating the shale underground until the oil becomes liquid – describes the finished product as looking like “something you might drink, a wine, a rosé, perhaps.”
The oil from the Israeli deposit, if not drinkable, turns out to be of a very fine quality. The company hopes to produce 50,000 barrels a day by 2020.
This follows further sensational energy news that within Israel’s coastal waters lie two natural gas fields. One could supply Israel’s domestic market for decades. The other, a “supergiant”, could be used purely for export.
Would anyone have imagined three decades ago that Israel could become one of the world’s leading energy exporters? The notion would have seemed incredible.
These dramatic energy finds, which will free Israel from its total reliance on energy imports, and perhaps break the Arabs’ oil-hold on the West with all its strategic ramifications for Israel, highlights an important lesson for Israel’s leaders. That is, circumstances change. And as a corollary to that, because circumstances change it’s important to stay the course when current circumstances are unfavorable.
Israel’s leaders have acted in the opposite fashion. Though they talk a good game, when push comes to shove, they disintegrate under pressure, whether it’s David Ben-Gurion after the Sinai campaign, Golda Meir after the Yom Kippur War, Menachem Begin at Camp David, Benjamin Netanyahu at the Wye talks or Ariel Sharon in his retreat from Gaza. Finding the situation intolerable at the moment, feeling the need to do something, anything to relieve the current pressures, they end up making everything far worse.
Shmuel understood the importance of staying the course. Indeed, the body of his work exposes a long litany of Israeli disintegration, whether the subject is oil, strategic depth, negotiating tactics, or wartime retreat. As he wrote in “The Crisis of Israel and the West” (1978):
Israel’s dire situation evolves from a breakdown in its Government of thought, of will and even of the essentials of acceptable public accounting.
Similarly, in The Jerusalem Post article, “Government’s Duty” (June 7, 1985), he wrote:
Weakness in defending the national interest at the negotiating table has long been a notable strand in the fabric of the Israeli government.
On one collapse in particular Shmuel speaks with the greatest authority, having been in camera through much of it, as adviser to Menachem Begin during the period when the former prime minister embarked on his misguided attempt to make peace with Egypt, leading to the eventual abandonment of the Sinai for, as Egyptian President Anwar Sadat later put it, “a piece of paper.”
In his chapter “The White House Picks The Plan Apart”, in his book The Hollow Peace, (Dvir Co. Ltd., 1981), Shmuel gives a first-hand account of how Begin collapsed under pressure as the Carter administration picked apart his autonomy plan for the Arabs living in Judea, Samaria and Gaza. Begin believed his plan would be accepted at once, just as the first part of his proposal, giving up all of Sinai, had been.
Carter’s reaction came down on Begin like a bolt from the blue. He paid almost no attention to the ceding of Sinai. That concession was as good as in his pocket and had no longer even any bargaining value. He went to the heart of the matter as he saw it: the missing elements in the programme for withdrawals from these regions in compliance with Security Council Resolution 242. He also wanted to know about the returning of refugees. Most, insistently, he was asking: When will sovereignty on the “West Bank” be decided on.…
It thus immediately became clear that Carter was pursuing one central objective and that he would weigh every idea or proposal in terms of that objective, which was a very simple one: that the “West Bank” should be treated by Israel as it was prepared to treat Sinai, in brief, Israel should go back to the 1949 Armistice lines.
“I sat there petrified,” at the second meeting, Shmuel relates, as he witnessed the prime minister “say not a single word about Jewish rights” and reverse himself on key points to suit the Americans, including his previous opposition to “I.D.F withdrawal to Cantonments” and the “return of refugees.”
Begin’s strong desire for a good word from the Americans about his plan was painfully apparent. It was this desire that explains his almost automatic acquiescence in the demands of Carter and his aides for the “improvement” of his plan.
Sometimes Israel’s leaders collapse due to fears that have already proven unfounded. The ‘demographic threat’, a hobby horse of the Left in which an imminent Arab population explosion will overflow the “West Bank” and wash away Israel’s Jewish character has been used for decades to strike fear into the average Israeli. The threat turns out to be severely exaggerated.
In a Jerusalem Post article on July 3, Joel Golovensky, president of the Institute for Zionist Strategies, writes of a new study by his institute that puts the lie to the commonly held belief that Arab fertility rates far surpass Jewish fertility rates. The study shows that “Jewish TFR [total fertility rate] is steadily rising, while the Arab TFR is plummeting.”
“In 1965, Israeli Arab women were giving birth to 8.42 children on average. In 2010, they were giving birth to 3.5. Put differently, the TFR gap between the average Israeli Arab woman/ and her Jewish counterpart went from 4.95 to 0.6,” Golovensky writes, adding, “[I]t is clear that even if the current trends flatten out, the Jewish and Arab fertility rates will soon converge and may reverse so that Jewish fertility exceeds Arab fertility. Even today, among 14 Middle East countries, Israel’s Jewish fertility rate ranks fifth.”
Who knows but that the Arabs will one day worry about a Jewish population explosion. It sounds ludicrous. But is it any more so than stating 40 years ago that Israel has as much proven oil reserves as Saudi Arabia – and of a finer quality?
Shmuel was an inveterate optimist. So was his hero Vladimir Jabotinsky. And so, for that matter, was Zionism’s founder, Theodore Herzl. The best Zionists always were optimists. In light of recent revelations, it may be they knew something we don’t.