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BETWEEN PERMEABLE AND SEALED BORDERS: THE TRANS-ARABIAN PIPELINE AND THE ARAB–ISRAELI CONFLICT

  • Asher Kaufman
Abstract

The Trans-Arabian Pipeline (Tapline), which extended from Dhahran in Saudi Arabia to Zahrani in Lebanon and operated from 1950 to 1982, was haunted by the Arab–Israeli conflict throughout the years of its operation. The route of the pipeline—which traversed Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Syria, and Lebanon—was chosen so as to circumvent Palestine/Israel. However, following the Israeli occupation of the Golan Heights in the 1967 war, Israel became an active participant in this project, with the full consent of the transit states and Egypt. This article uses Tapline as a means to analyze the interconnected world facilitated by oil pipelines, which defies common wisdom about state sovereignty or the function of interstate boundaries. In addition, Tapline demonstrates how this interconnected network created possibilities for Arab–Israeli cooperation that might have seemed inconceivable initially, given the hostile dynamics of the conflict.

Copyright
Corresponding author
Asher Kaufman is an Associate Professor at The Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies and the Department of History, University of Notre Dame, Notre Dame, Ind.; e-mail: kaufman.15@nd.edu
References
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NOTES

Author's note: I thank Efrat Ben Zeev for reading and commenting on an earlier draft of this article. I am also grateful to the four anonymous reviewers whose comments helped me sharpen the arguments put forth here.

1 Timrot ʿAshan was broadcast on the cable TV channel, HOT, in 2009 and 2011.

2 Mitchell argues, more precisely, that his book is not about democracy and oil but rather about “democracy as oil.” Mitchell, Timothy, Carbon Democracy: Political Power in the Age of Oil (London: Verso, 2011), 5.

3 Ibid., 7.

4 Mitchell, Timothy, “Carbon Democracy,” Economy and Society 38 (2009): 401.

5 These pipelines included the Iraq Petroleum Company (IPC) line from northern Iraq to Haifa in Palestine and Tripoli in Lebanon (1934), an IPC line from Kirkuk in northern Iraq to Banias in Syria (1950), an oil pipeline from northern Iraq to Turkey (1977), a second line from northern Iraq to Turkey (1987), an internal Saudi pipeline from the Gulf to the Red Sea (1983), the Trans-Mediterranean gas pipeline from Algeria via Tunisia to Sicily with an extension to Slovenia (1983), the Egyptian Suez-Mediterranean oil pipeline (1977), and the Eilat-Ashkelon pipeline, a joint Israeli–Iranian project (1968).

6 Martínez, Oscar, Border People: Life and Society in the U.S.–Mexico Borderlands (Tucson, Ariz.: University of Arizona Press, 1994), 510.

7 See, for example, Van Schendel, Willem, The Bengal Borderland (London: Anthem Press, 2005), 372; Ganster, Paul and Lorey, David, eds., Borders and Border Politics in a Globalizing World (Lanham, Md.: Rowman & Littlefield, 2005), xiv; Berger, Stefan, “Border Regions, Hybridity and National Identity: The Case of Alsace and Masuria,” in The Many Faces of Clio: Cross-Cultural Approaches to Historiography, ed. Wang, Q. Edward and Fillafer, Franz L. (New York: Berghahn, 2007), 367; Shirk, David, “States, Borders, and Violence: Lessons from the U.S.–Mexican Experience,” in Violence, Coercion and State-Making in Twentieth-Century Mexico, ed. Pansters, Wil G. (Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 2012), 45–46; Wilkinson, Jane, Performing the Local and the Global (Bern: Peter Lang, 2007), 182; and Heyman, Josiah McC., “Culture Theory and the US–Mexico Border,” in A Companion to Border Studies, ed. Wilson, Thomas M. and Donnan, Hastings (Sussex: Blackwell 2012), 50.

8 In fact, Tapline Company owned and operated the section from Qaisumah in Saudi Arabia to Zahrani in Lebanon (1213 km) while ARAMCO owned the section from Qaisumah to Dhaharan (506 km). For the route of the pipeline as embedded on Google Earth, see http://goo.gl/maps/mfqsk.

9 Information is taken primarily from Gendzier, Irene, Notes from the Minefield (New York: Columbia University Press, 1997); and Little, Douglas, “Pipeline Politics: America, TAPLINE, and the Arabs,” The Business History Review 64, no. 7 (1990): 255–85.

10 Little, “Pipeline Politics,” 262. Timothy Mitchell suggests that economic reasons—labor strikes in Haifa and competition between the sterling and the dollar zones—were also important in the decision not to use Haifa as the terminus of the pipeline. See Mitchell, Carbon Democracy, 104, 119.

11 Convention Regulating the Transit of Mineral Oils by Trans-Arabian Pipe Line Company Through the Republic of Lebanon, decimal file, 1945–49, record group 59, box 7206, National Archives at College Park, College Park, Md. (hereafter NACP); Convention Regulating the Transit of Mineral Oils by Trans-Arabian Pipe Line Company Through the Territory of Trans-Jordan, decimal file, 1945–49, record group 59, box 7206, NACP; Convention Regulating the Transit of Mineral Oils by Trans-Arabian Pipe Line Company Through the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, decimal file, 1945–49, record group 59, box 7206, NACP.

12 Convention regulating the Transit of Mineral Oils by Trans-Arabian Pipe Line Company Through the Republic of Syria, decimal file, 1945–1949, record group 59, box 7201, NACP.

13 Little, Douglas, “Cold War and Covert Action: The United States and Syria, 1945–1958,” Middle East Journal 44 (1990): 5175; Irene Gendzier, Notes from the Minefield, 97–98.

14 US Embassy in Damascus to Secretary of State, 24 April 1949, record group 319, box 76, NACP.

15 See extensive correspondence between Zaʿim, the U.S., and Tapline officials in incoming and outgoing messages, record group 319, box 76, NACP.

16 See articles II and XVII of the conventions referenced in endnotes 9–12.

17 US Embassy in Damascus to Department of State, “Tapline,” 14 April 1950, decimal file, 1945–1949, record group 59, box 5439, NACP.

18 Syrian Government decree no. 136, 20 February 1950, decimal file, 1945–1949, record group 59, box 5437, NACP.

19 U.S. Embassy in Damascus to Department of State, “Petroleum Report for May 1950,” 26 June 1950, decimal file, 1945–1949, record group 59, box 5437, NACP.

20 The Petroleum Engineer, April 1956, http://almashriq.hiof.no/lebanon/300/380/388/tapline/petroleum-engineer/ (accessed 29 March 2012).

23 U.S. Embassy in Damascus to Department of State, “Petroleum Report for April 1950,” 24 May 1950, decimal file, 1945–1949, record group 59, box 5437, NACP.

24 Theodore A. Wahl, first secretary of US Embassy in Beirut, to Department of State, November 5 1964, record group 59, box 2354, NACP.

25 Armin Meyer to Department of State, “Syrian–Lebanese Border,” 1 March 1963, record group 59, box 3972, NACP; Meyer to State Department, “Tapline repair work,” 4 November 1964, record group 59, box 2354, NACP.

26 Vitalis, Robert, in America's Kingdom: Mythmaking on the Saudi Oil Frontier (Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 2007), sharply criticizes ARAMCO's mistreatment of its Arab employees, comparing it with Jim Crow segregation laws in the United States. While Tapline is not Vitalis’ focus of interest, it is safe to infer that Tapline's local employees suffered the same mistreatment as ARAMCO's. See pp. 18–26 for a summary of his arguments.

27 Saoudi, M. S. and Dajani, M. S., “The 1967 Oil Embargo Revisited,” Journal of Palestine Studies 13 (1984): 6590.

28 US Embassy in Beirut to Secretary of State (two telegrams on the same day), 13 June 1967, records relating to Saudi Arabia, 1955–1974, record group 59, box 5, entry 5633, NACP; see also memorandum of conversation on Tapline's future, 31 August 1967.

29 “American Pipeline Firm Resumes Oil Exports in Lebanon,” Los Angeles Times, 13 July 1967.

30 For the text of the Khartoum Resolution see http://avalon.law.yale.edu/20th_century/khartoum.asp (accessed 29 March 2012). See also “Lebanon Authorizes Exports of Oil to West,” Christian Science Monitor, 9 September 1967.

31 U.S. Embassy in Jidda to Secretary of State, 3 July 1967, records relating to Saudi Arabia, 1955–1974, record group 59, box 5, entry 5633, NACP.

32 U.S. Embassy in Jidda to Secretary of State, “Tapline reopening,” 16 September 1967, records relating to Saudi Arabia, 1955–1974, record group 59, box 5, entry 5633, NACP.

33 American Consulate in Dhahran to Department of State, “Aramco-SAG Agreement for Reopening of Tapline,” 27 September 1967, records relating to Saudi Arabia, 1955–1974, record group 59, box 5, entry 5633, NACP.

34 I could not find documentation of the official Israeli decision to allow the resumption of Tapline (the relevant files are closed to the public in the Israeli State Archives), but it is clear that the Israeli government approved the reopening of Tapline without demanding transit royalties. See an echo of this decision in Israeli ambassador to the US to Deputy Director of Ministry of Foreign Affairs, 26 September 1967, Foreign Affairs, 35/6556, Israel State Archives (hereafter ISA).

35 Bialer, Uri, Oil and the Arab–Israeli Conflict, 1948–63 (New York: St. Martin's Press, 1999), 171242; Bialer, Uri, “Fuel Bridge across the Middle East—Israel, Iran, and the Eilat-Ashkelon Oil Pipeline,” Israel Studies 12, no. 3 (2007): 2967.

36 Seth S. King, “Conquests Strengthen Israeli Control of Resources,” New York Times, 20 August 1967.

37 Sela, Avraham, The Decline of the Arab–Israeli Conflict (Albany, N.Y.: State University of New York Press, 1998), 102104.

38 See, for example, General Bull to Moshe Dayan, 28 November 1967, Foreign Affairs, 12/3977, ISA.

39 See an entire file that discusses this affair: Tapline 311-5-15, Israel-Syria Tapline Break, 30 November 1967, 311-5-15 UNSC, Supplemental information, S/7930/Add.57, United Nations Archives (hereafter UNA); and U.S. Embassy in Beirut to U.S. Consulate in Jerusalem, “Lebanon Tapline leak,” 29 August 1967, State Department Numeric File, 1967–69, record group 59, NACP.

40 Johnson to Ralph Bunche, incoming code cable, 13 October 1967, 311-5-15, UNA; Bunch to Bull, incoming code cable, 18 October 1967, 311-5-15, UNA.

41 Odd Bull to Bunche, November 7 1967, 311-5-15, UNA.

42 Jerusalem (UNTSO headquarters) to Bunche (in Cairo), 20 November 1967, 311-5-15, UNA.

43 Mekorot to Northern Command, 3 June 1969, Foreign Affairs, 11/3206, ISA.

44 Ministry of Foreign Affairs to Washington and UN embassies, 1 June 1969, Foreign Affairs, 11/3206, ISA; al-Yawmiyyat al-Filastiniyya 9 (1/1/1969–30/6/1969) (Beirut: Markaz al-Abhath, Munazamat al-Tahrir al-Filastiniyya, 1970), 402–403.

45 Al-Anwar, 1 June 1969, in daily Arab newspaper report, 4 May 1969, Foreign Affairs, 11/3206, ISA.

46 On the conflict between the (Arab) state and the (Palestinian) revolution, see Sela, The Decline of the Arab–Israeli Conflict, 125–32.

47 Al-Nahar, 1 June 1969.

48 Cited in William Brewer to Sisco, June 2 1969, record group 59, entry 5633, box 5, NACP.

49 Paul Stevens, “A History of Transit Pipelines in the Middle East: Lessons for the Future,” CPMLP seminar paper No. SP23 (University of Dundee: Centre for Petroleum and Mineral Law and Policy, 1996), 7.

50 Tariki's article can be found in U.S. Embassy in Beirut to Department of State, 20 June 1969, record group 59, box 5, entry 5633, NACP.

51 “Many Saudi Arabia Arrests Said to Follow Oil Line Blast,” New York Times, 18 June 1969.

52 William Brewer to Joseph Sisco, 2 June 1969, record group 59, box 5, entry 5633, NACP.

53 La-Merhav, 4 June 1969; Maariv, 4 June 1969.

54 William Brewer to Joseph Sisco, 2 June 1969, record group 59, box 5, entry 5633, NACP; Foreign Affairs, 11/3206, 16 June 1969, ISA.

55 Robert H. Neuman to Joseph Sisco, “Israel's Legal Case Regarding Tapline,” 3 June 1969, records relating to Saudi Arabia, 1955–1974, record group 59, box 5, entry 5633, NACP.

56 Golda Meir to Zvi Dinstein, 3 June 1969, Foreign Affairs, 11/3206, ISA.

57 Colonel Yehoshua Nevo (office of liaison with UN) to Ministry of Foreign Affairs, 10 July 1969, Foreign Affairs, 11/3206, ISA.

58 Michael Elizur to Director General of Ministry of Foreign Affairs, 28 August 1969, Foreign Affairs, 11/3206/11, ISA; Zvi Dinstein to Y. Berg, 31 August 1969, Foreign Affairs, 11/3206, ISA.

59 Yaakov Herzog, Director General of the Prime Minister's Office, to J. Gwen Zurhellen, chargé d'affaires, US Embassy, “Tapline company 1969,” 22 August 1969, Foreign Affairs, 11/3206, ISA; William D. Brewer to Joseph Sisco, 23 July 1969, records relating to Saudi Arabia, 1955–1974, record group 59, box 5, entry 5633, NACP.

60 Maariv, 16 June 1969.

61 Ministry of Foreign Affairs to Israeli Embassy in Washington, 19 June 1969, Foreign Affairs, 11/3206, ISA.

62 Gary Owen to Zvi Dinstein, 9 July 1969, Foreign Affairs, 3206/11, ISA.

63 The official representative of Tapline in Israel was Yehoshua Berg, an engineer who worked at Mekoroth, the Israeli national water company, and hired Horowitz. Abu Horowitz hailed from one of the most famous families in the Huleh valley. His father, Nahum Horowitz, was a member of Ha-Shomer and one of the founders of Kibbutz Kfar Giladi.

64 Phone interviews with Udi Arnon, former member of Kibbutz Ein Zivan and the person in charge of the Pipeline Guard in 1970–1974, 5 March 2012; phone interview with Ori Tabenkin, Kibbutz Ein Zivan, 5 March 2012; interview with Kobbi Laufer, Katzrin, 8 January 2012; interview with Yigal Ashuah, Kibbutz Kfar Giladi, 9 January 2012. For pictures related to the sabotage, the pipeline guard, the Tapline road before it was paved, and the pipeline today, see http://almashriq.hiof.no/lebanon/300/380/388/tapline/line/kaufman/. I thank Børre Ludvigsen, who set up this permanent link on his invaluable website. I am also grateful to Yigal Ashuah, who generously provided me with the 1969 pictures, which he took immediately after the sabotage.

65 “Arabian Pipeline Closed for 5th Day,” New York Times, 8 May 1970.

66 See Saudi statement about stopping financial support for the frontline states in Richard Murphy to Joseph Sisco, 23 June 1970, State Department Subject Numeric File, 1970–1973, Saudi Arabia, record group 59, NACP. See also “Shift in Arab Oil Pumping,” New York Times, 26 May 1970; “Saudis Weigh Closing of Oil Pipeline,” Washington Post, 26 May 1970; and “Syrian Action Cuts Lebanese Oil Supply,” Los Angeles Times, 24 June 1970.

67 Joseph Sisco to Richard Murphy, 12 May 1970, State Department Subject Numeric File, 1970–1973, Saudi Arabia, record group 59, NACP.

68 “Raddan ʿala al-Mukhattat al-Suri bi-Manʿ Islah Khat al-Tablayn,” al-Hayat, 12 May 1970. See also a statement released by the Saudi embassy in Beirut in Richard Murphy to Joseph Sisco, “Saudi Reaction to Tapline Closure,” 23 June 1970, State Department Subject Numeric File, 1970–1973, Saudi Arabia, record group 59, NACP.

69 Joseph Twinam to Van Hollen, 17 August 1970, State Department Subject Numeric File, 1970–1973, Saudi Arabia, record group 59, NACP.

70 Richard Murphy to Joseph Sisco, 23 June 1970, State Department Subject Numeric File, 1970–1973, Saudi Arabia, record group 59, NACP.

71 Lee F. Dinsmore to Richard Murphy, 21 September 1970, State Department Subject Numeric File, 1970–1973, Saudi Arabia, record group 59, NACP.

72 American Consul in Dhahran to Secretary of State, Washington, DC, 9 and 12 December 1970, State Department Subject Numeric File, 1970–1973, Saudi Arabia, record group 59, NACP; “New Moderate Spirit Seen in Syria Regime,” Los Angeles Times, 19 November 1970; Seale, Patrick, Asad of Syria: The Struggle for the Middle East (Berkeley, Calif.: University of California Press, 1989), 186.

73 “Hopes Rise for Tapline Repair,” Washington Post, 6 December 1970; “Arabian Oil Flowing,” Chicago Tribune, 30 January 1971; “Pipeline in Syria Is Reopened after Nine Months,” New York Times, 30 January 1971; “Trans Arabian Pipeline Is Reopened,” Washington Post, 30 January 1971.

74 “Arab Officials to Discuss Jordan-Guerrilla Battles,” Washington Post, 2 April 1971; “Commandos Begin Military Campaign in Jordan to Force Ouster of Premier,” New York Times, 3 April 1971; “Jordanian King Warns Fedayeen,” New York Times, 16 September 1971.

75 “Fire Near Beirut Hits Oil Facility of U.S. Company,” New York Times, 14 April 1973; “Terrorists in Lebanon Blow Up 2 Oil Tanks at American Refinery,” Wall Street Journal, 16 April 1973; Blast Fails to Halt Oil Flow in the Trans-Arabia Pipeline,” New York Times, 2 May 1974; “Explosion in Tapline Oil Pipe,” Haaretz, 2 May 1974.

76 Minutes of Washington Special Actions Group Meeting, Washington, October 15, 1973, Foreign Relations of the United States, 1969–1976 XXV (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, 2011), 527.

77 See a detailed report of the damages and the cooperation of the Beirut office of Tapline with Israel over the repairs: “Tapline Head Engineer,” Protocol of meeting at Y. Berg office, “Tapline company facilities and the prevention of oil pollution of the Kinnereth,” 26 March 1974, Foreign Affairs, 8/951, ISA.

78 “4 Oil Companies Shutting Tapline,” New York Times, 11 April 1975; “Companies to Close Arabian Pipeline,” Los Angeles Times, 10 April 1975; “Arab Politics, Technology Shut Off Tapline,” Los Angeles Times, 11 May 1975.

79 “Aramco Chief Says Several Issues Remain to Be Settled before Takeover by Saudis,” Wall Street Journal, 23 February 1977.

80 Y. Berg to numerous addressees, “Tapline Head Engineer,” 20 March 1975, Foreign Affairs, 8/951, ISA.

81 U.S. Embassy in Jidda to Secretary of State, “Yamani Views on Tapline,” 16 March 1975, electronic telegrams, 1/1/1975–12/31/1975, record group 59, NACP; see also “Trans-Arabian Pipeline to Revert to Four American Oil Companies,” New York Times, 10 August 1977.

82 U.S. Embassy in Tel Aviv to Secretary of State, “Tapline property nicked in air raid,” 16 July 1975, electronic telegrams, 1/1/1975–12/31/1975, record group 59, NACP.

83 “Lebanon's Tapline Debt,” New York Times, 22 July 1981; “Lebanon Set to Seize Oil,” New York Times, 25 August 1981.

84 C. Richards, “Jordan Says Saudis Have Cut Off Its Oil Supplies,” The Irish Times, 22 September 1990; Hasan bin Talal, “Jordan's Cry of Conscience,” The Guardian, 12 February 1991.

85 “Impunity of Israel's Attack by Air, Sea Shows Virtual Defenselessness of Lebanon,” Washington Post, 22 July 1981.

86 “State Department Urged to Protest, Help File Claims against Medreco Damage,” Platt's Oilgram News, 14 July 1982.

87 “Israel Says It Will Bill US Owners of Medreco Refinery for Repair Work,” Platt's Oilgram News, 14 July 1982; “Israel Sees Possible Resumption of Oil to Lebanon via Tapline,” Platt's Oilgram News, 28 July 1982.

88 See report about possible uses of the pipeline in N. Nevo to Tzemah Yishay, “Coordinating and using Golan cross-line (Tapline),” 11 July 1984, in “water,” file 055/08 Golan Heights Archives.

89 Mitchell, Carbon Democracy, 144−72.

90 In a somewhat similar case in 1948, Iraq stopped using its Kirkuk-Haifa pipeline and instead built a new pipeline to Lebanon.

91 Interview with Kobbi Laufer, Katzrin, 8 January 2012.

92 “Israel to Propose Saudis Resume Use of Tapline,” Platt's Oilgram News, 29 August 1994.

93 Ilana Levin to Zvi Ya'akobovitch, “Mey Golan: Using rights of Tapline,” 31 August 1994; Yonatan Emun to prime minister and minister of energy, “Using rights of Tapline,” 18 September 1994; Ze'ev Afik to Zvi Ya'akobovitch, 5 October 1994, in “water,” file 055/08 Golan Heights Archives.

95 Rivlin, Paul, “Oil Market Prospects and Tensions in the Gulf,” Middle East Economy 2, no. 2 (2012): 2, http://www.dayan.org/sites/default/files/Iqtisadi_February_2012_eng_final.pdf.

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