Israel will receive its first delivery of oil from a disputed pipeline in Kurdistan, in a sign of growing relations between the Jewish state and the autonomous Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) in northern Iraq.
On Friday the SCF Altai tanker approached the city of Ashkelon in southern Israel, and is scheduled to dock sometime Saturday.
The oil delivery is from the KRG's new independent pipeline which bypasses the central Iraqi government by running directly to the Turkish port of Ceyhan, much to the chagrin of Baghdad's embattled government. The delivery to Israel comes at a crucial time for the KRG, which is looking to protect itself from the deteriorating situation in Iraq by being more independent economically.
The independent export of oil to Israel comes shortly after Kurdish Peshmerga forces - the KRG's independent army - seized the oil-rich town of Kirkuk in northern Iraq, along with swathes of territory near the Turkish border, as Iraqi troops abandoned their posts in response to the advance of Sunni Muslim rebels including the radical Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS). KRG officials have already openly entertained the option of redirecting the flow of oil from Kirkuk through the Ceyhan pipeline, particularly after the regular Kirkuk pipeline was sabotaged after Kurdish forces took control of the city.
The United States opposes the KRG's oil pipeline, but Israeli officials told Reuters Jerusalem is keen to build relations with the Kurds, both in order to counter the growing influence of Iran and to generally broaden its options for energy supplies.
Unlike the US and many European countries, Israel does not buy oil from Iraq, and is therefore unruffled by the Iraqi government's staunch opposition to the Ceyhan pipeline.