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An old Israel-Iraq oil line ... reopening?

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Nothing could be better designed to undermine the coalition's promise that Iraq's oil should benefit its own people than Israel's proclaimed wish to "reopen" a long-unused pipeline from Iraq's Kirkuk oil fields to Israel's Mediterranean port of Haifa.

Israel's National Infrastructure Minister Joseph Paritzky was quoted in a March 31 Ha'aretz article saying that Israeli and Jordanian officials would soon meet to discuss reviving the line. Built by the British in the 1940s, the line crossed west from Iraq through Jordan to British-ruled Palestine (today's Israel). Upon the 1948 birth of Israel and the immediate eruption of war with Iraq, Jordan and other Arab neighbors forced its shutdown and the diversion of Iraqi oil through a branch line to Syria.

Arabs reacted with predictable fury to Mr. Paritzky's suggestion that the oil of a post- Hussein Iraq could flow to the Jewish state, to be consumed or marketed from there. Jordan's information minister instantly declared the story about Israel-Jordan meetings "devoid of truth," because Jordan's "relations with Israel are now very cold."

Despite the wishful thinking among President Bush's neoconservative and pro-Israel advisers, a post-Hussein Iraq is unlikely voluntarily to warm to Mr. Sharon's government. Since 1948, Israel and Iraq have been implacable foes. Unlike Egypt, Jordan, or Syria, Iraq has never been willing even to discuss an armistice with Israel, let alone a peace accord like those Israel signed with Egypt and Jordan - this despite some wishful mediation attempts by US and other Western business interests during Saddam Hussein's presidency.


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