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Despite Iraq’s Best Efforts, Opec Oil Action Seems Unlikely

April 10, 2002
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Despite Iraq’s best efforts, it appears that at least for now, oil and politics will not mix.

Iraq announced this week that it would suspend its oil exports for a month to protest Israel’s military offensive into Palestinian areas.

But other OPEC members rejected a similar move, and observers here predicted that the oil weapon would not succeed in shifting American public or political support for Israel.

The Iraqi move comes as the U.S. Senate is set to renew its debate over an energy bill that could focus on decreasing America’s dependence on foreign oil.

When Arab OPEC members used an oil embargo as a weapon in 1973 it backfired, and it is unlikely this time as well that Israel will be blamed for any potential fears of long lines at the U.S. gas pumps or the already-rising gas prices.

“In the 70s, public opinion did not turn against Israel, it actually went against the Arab side,” said Martin Raffel, associate executive director for the Jewish Council for Public Affairs.

The U.S. Energy Department announced Monday that the summer average for gas pump prices is expected to be the third highest on record, after 2001 and 2000.

U.S. crude oil and gasoline inventories are still above last year’s levels but they are expected to decline through the summer.

While the price of a barrel rose this week after the Iraqi announcement, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, both OPEC members, said they would not join any Iraqi boycott.

A cutoff in oil supplies is not the same threat it once was, said Phil Baum, former executive director of the American Jewish Congress and now a special adviser to the group on world affairs.

People are aware of U.S. moves toward other energy options and also are aware of Saddam Hussein’s regime.

“The anger will be against him, not Israel,” Baum said.

One of the more contentious parts of the congressional debate over energy policy is whether to allow drilling in an Alaskan wildlife refuge, a policy that may gain more support in light of the Iraqi boycott.

Pro-drilling advocates maintain that only a part of the Alaskan National Wildlife Refuge will be disturbed, but environmentalists claim pipelines will extend across the entire coastal plain and hurt wildlife and indigenous populations.

Some Jewish groups oppose drilling in the refuge, a few support it and others sidestep the issue and focus on the general message of reducing U.S. dependence on foreign oil.

The Jewish community has been concerned about foreign oil dependence for a long time but drilling in the reserve will not resolve the problem, said Mark Jacobs, executive director of the Coalition on the Environment and Jewish Life.

“There is no reason to change one’s position on drilling in the Arctic as a consequence of Iraq’s threat,” he said. “This is a long-term issue and the primary way to solve it is through energy conservation.”

The U.S. House of Representatives already passed a bill that includes drilling in the refuge.

A reliable oil supply is needed to help protect American economic interests, but the situation in the Middle East should not be used as an argument for drilling in the Arctic refuge, he said.

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