Israel May Buy 12bln cu m of Azerbaijani Gas a year: Interview with Israeli Infrastructure Minister

Israel, Jerusalem, 2 June / corr Trend Arie Gout / Trend 's exclusive interview with Benjamin Ben Eliezer, the Israeli national infrastructure minister, who arrived in Baku on 2 June on an official visit.

Question: You are one of the Israeli ministers who have visited Azerbaijan for several times. What is your impression from these visits to the country?

Answer: I am visiting Azerbaijan first to participate in the annual oil and gas exhibition. I have very good impressions about Azerbaijan, political elite of this country, people and leadership. The most important for me was a meeting with President Ilham Aliyev, whom I met numerously over the past period. I regard the Azerbaijani President as a very energetic, pragmatic and sober-minded politician of the new generation. From the political viewpoint, he well understands and realizes the current situation of Azerbaijan. The human friendship and business partnership with my Azerbaijani counterparts, existence of influential and large Jewish community, co-existing happily and well integrated in Azerbaijan, deeply impresses and gladdens me. Azerbaijan has made a big progress in its development since the day of independence and we Israelis are proud of that. This is the reason of my visit and my participation in the oil and gas exhibition in Baku. Furthermore, we have common values and objectives: temperance, development and prosperity, preservation of traditions and search of joint co-resistance in the common region. Azerbaijan is an interesting and strategically important country for Israel.

Question:  What is your appraisal to the current state of the Azerbaijani-Israeli mutual relations? To what extent does the oil factor define these relations?

Answer: The Azerbaijani-Israeli relations are on high level and they are really excellent. My visit is paid at the time when the two countries have enough spheres for real cooperation and partnership, which we should develop and expand. So, I am visiting Azerbaijan to find new spheres for cooperation and give special dimension to this partnership. We have too many projects in the sphere of sun energy, desalination, construction of power stations and we will be glad to see Azerbaijani investors in Israel.

Oil can be one of the factors of our mutual relations. Our strategic relations should have a basis of different fields of cooperation and should not be based only on oil and narrow economic interests. We should develop culture cooperation between the two countries; encourage tourism, academic exchange and the joint visits of Israeli and Azerbaijani teachers, scientists and journalists. These are steps of our durable strategic cooperation. If you are asking me about energy, in the modern world we should cooperate so as to counteract energy security challenges and at the same time preserve the environment. This is a fact that not only oil, but the cooperation in the energy field in large since provides large basis for political, economic and other fields of bilateral cooperation.

Question: The Israeli government officials have recently stated their interest in the Azerbaijani gas importation. What volume of gas does Israel intend to buy from Azerbaijan?

Answer: At present we are considering Azerbaijan as one of important strategic players in the sphere of gas sale. Azerbaijan is a friendly country and strategic partner of Israel.. With respect to gas imports, we are at the initial stage of talks. Talks in the energy and gas sector particularly, envisage enough time. We conduct talks with many producers and Azerbaijan occupies an important and special role among them. I should underline our geographic situation. We are a small country and should preserve the environment. However, natural gas and electricity are needed to solve may of our problems. Currently, we consume over 2bln cu.m gas a year. I am sure that by 2015 our demand will increase to 12bln cu m gas a year. During the visit, I will focus all my efforts on it. So far, we used to buy gas from Egypt, whereas we are doing exploitation work in Israel and hold negotiations with our partners. Azerbaijan occupies a special place among the producer partners. We estimate our future cooperation with Azerbaijan in gas importation up to $40bln.

Question: What is our estimation of the possible use of the Eylat Ashkelon oil pipeline for the transportation of oil products from the Caspian region?

Answer: This is a very important and huge project. Israel may become a real bridge for the oil transportation to Far East. The pipeline company Eylat-Ashkelon comes out with an international initiative to establish a route for oil transportation from the Turkish port of Ceyhan to the Eastern Asia, using its infrastructure in Israel. Azerbaijani oil delivered to Cehyan via the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline can be attracted for transportation. The Azerbaijani oil will be unloaded by tanker in Asheklon and transported onwards to Eylat via the pipeline. Oil will be anew unloaded to tanks in this city for further delivery to the East Asian region. Turkey is at present studying various aspect of this project. We call it an energy corridor. We would be very grateful to many countries capable to earn from efficient energy transit, including our neighbors. Indeed, the Eylat-Ashkelon is an important and inseparable component of the project. It will enable the Caspian hydrocarbons to penetrate effectively to new markets.

Question: Is Israel prepared to commence the import of Azerbaijani oil products after the construction of a new petrochemical complex in Ceyhan by the SOCAR?

Answer: Indeed, I will be very glad if the oil products reach Israel, because they will be real products of the Azerbaijani-Turkish cooperation, with which we have excellent relations.

Question: What is your estimation of the situation in the Middle East region, as an Israeli politician possessing a special role in the Arab world?

Answer: The major challenge of the region is to encourage the temperate policy of leaders desiring and capable to make a move towards the resolution of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict and regional cooperation. Now the Arab world also understands that extremism or violence does not have any objective. In the opposite, majority of Arab countries and heads of other countries want this conflict to end. Peace serves to development and economy and brings prosperity and welfare to all. We hold talks with Palestinians and have launched talks with Syrians as well. I do all the possible as a member of the Government and am prepared to contribute in success of these initiatives. As a soldier and general, former defence minister, citizens of Israel, father and grandfather, I am sure that peace is more valuable to me than nothing else. We have peaceable relations and proper diplomatic relations with two neighboring countries..

We are prepared to pay a high price for the peace, real and true peace. It is not difficult to imagine that our region will prosper when all countries conclude peace. Thanks to peace with Jordan, we are working over a huge project, which will generate electricity, treat water and develop the Dead Sea for both nations. This is only one example.

Over 60 years of existence, the population of Israel has increased by 9 times from 806,000 in 1948 to 7.3mln people. The country accepted over 3mln immigrants from 90 different countries, approximately 40% of them being from former USSR.

Israel has achieved an impressive success in the economy. Though in 1948 the per capita Gross Domestic Product (GDP) made up approximately $3,000 a year, now it is close to $25,000. A program of actions intended to increase the GDP to $50,000 per Israeli by 2028 is under discussion at the Government and it will enable to enter the list of 15 world rich countries.

Over the past 60 years, the Israeli economy has been fully transformed from the controlled socialist country to a free economy of the western type. Israel has become a world leading player at the hi-tech market from orange export. Hi-tech ensures almost half of the industrial export of Israel, which leads in the world for number of per capita engineers. Israel is a country, based on firm foundation with 1,000-year old traditions, cultural heritage, high moral and possessing all the scientific technologies of the future.

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