Sources inform ''Globes'' that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has ordered the IDF Home Front Command to initiate an extensive program to protect strategic energy facilities. The order was given in view of threats to these facilities by Iran, Hizbullah, and other parties.
On television yesterday, Hizbullah Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah threatened to attack Israeli power stations in the event of a war.
The installations to be protected are ones considered to be weak points in Israel's fuel storage and transportation network and electricity grid. The list of sites needing protection and the priorities will be set by a special committee appointed by Netanyahu, and chaired by Ministry of Energy and Water director general Shaul Tzemach with representatives of the IDF Home Front Command and National Security Council.
Nasrallah's threats highlight the need for immediate protection of Israeli energy infrastructures. In an interview on Lebanese television, he said in the event of a war between Hizbullah and Israel, Israeli power stations were included in the "bank of targets" for attack prepared by the organization. During the 2006 Second Lebanon War, Hizbullah fired missiles toward the Hadera Power Station, which did not suspend operations. The 2,300-megawatt coal-fired power station is the workhorse of Israel's power grid.
Nasrallah's remarks are evidence of Hizbullah's growing professionalism in identifying Israel's weak points.
The major question is whether Israel has the preparedness of systems for protecting critical infrastructures against attack. These infrastructures include the electricity grid, seawater desalination plants, water pumping stations, storage facilities, and pipelines, and the fuel storage, transport, and delivery system. The subject rarely gets proper public attention, despite its strategic importance.
Israel consumes 240,000 barrels of oil a day, which is imported by tankers. Coal and natural gas for the generation of electricity are also imported and delivered from offshore platforms, respectively. The working assumption is that, in time of war, Israel will be severed from its oil and coal suppliers, and gas supplies from offshore platforms could also be halted. If that happens, the country will have to subsist on its reserves stored in various sites around the country.
Scenarios also assume damage to one of Israel's two oil refineries in Haifa and Ashdod.
The Second Lebanon War was a dress rehearsal
The Second Lebanon War was a kind of dress rehearsal for the energy sector ahead of a possible general war. During the Second Lebanon War, Israel faced a shortage of jet fuel, because the government refused to provide oil tankers with insurance coverage against damage, with the result that they refused to enter Israel's waters.
The 2008 State Comptroller report on the preparedness of energy infrastructures during an emergency said that it is necessary to increase emergency fuel reserves for defense needs and to set arrangements of sea transport of fuels during an emergency. The report recommended using Israeli-flagged tankers, because since the privatization of Zim Integrated Shipping Services Ltd., Israel has no tankers which the minister of transport could order to delivery fuel during an emergency.
An investigation by "Globes" found that several measures have recently been taken to improve the energy sector's preparedness and reduce its vulnerability. A central measure is Netanyahu's order for extensive protection of facilities. Reserves of oil and refined products have also been greatly increased. In retrospect, it turns out that the reserves were extremely low, to the point at which Israel had only enough fuel for a few days. The fuel transportation network has also been upgraded. Israel has been lucky on this point: the halt in Egyptian natural gas deliveries forced the government to hold another dress rehearsal for a war.
In addition to the improvements made, there are matters that may not be ready in time. For example, there are not yet any Israeli oil tankers. The State Comptroller's recommendations for delivery of fuel to Israel by sea during an emergency have not been implemented in full.
Gas storage is just as problematic. Two years ago, Minister of Energy and Water Resources Uzi Landau ordered Israel National Gas Lines Ltd. to find sites for land-based gas reserves. The company did the work and located suitable storage sites, such as Rosh Zohar near Arad in the Negev. Since then, however, voices have been raised against the idea by other ministries, and the subject is stuck, due to a demand to privatize the operation of the reserves and publish a tender for this purpose.
As for the national grid, IEC employees have fairly advanced means of protection and most facilities are protected against strikes by conventional missiles, but the grid is vulnerable to damage that could shut down a large power station. That said, this summer's events demonstrated that IEC can meet peak electricity demand even two of its ten coal-fired production units are off line.
As for water, municipal water companies are required to keep emergency water supplies, including bottled water, which could offer a temporary solution if an attack briefly shuts down key pumping stations. The national water carrier has monitoring systems to alert against attempts at sabotage.
Israel ignores the International Energy Agency
The measures taken to prepare the energy sector for an emergency are important, but more needs to be done. The question left begging is why Israel does not want to learn from the wealth of experience of the International Energy Agency (IEA), which Western governments set up in response to the Arab oil embargo that followed the 1973 Yom Kippur War. IEA membership was opened to Israel when it joined the OECD. The IEA specializes in preparing energy sectors for emergencies and advises member states with the highest-quality information.
The IEA also meticulously adheres to the principle that member states should keep a 90-day fuel reserve. In terms of the threats, Israel is in a different league from IEA members, but Israel only has fuel reserves that are barely sufficient for half the recommended minimum, according unofficial estimates. The reason is Ministry of Finance objections to the cost of storage and to the widespread arrogance among energy sector officials.
"Israel has nothing to learn from such an agency," a top emergency preparedness official told "Globes" recently. "If anything, we could teach them."
Published by Globes [online], Israel business news - www.globes-online.com - on September 4, 2012
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