Admiral Ayalon provided valuable perspective on the national security issues facing Israel today and the key role the University of Haifa plays in the northern region. His observations were particularly timely in light of recent terrorist activity around the world, and stimulated vigorous give and take among attendees.
In San Francisco Admiral (Ret.) Ayalon addressed more than 90 at the Jewish Community Relations Center in an event jointly sponsored by ASUH, the Jewish Community Relations Council, the Israel Consulate and the SF-Haifa Sister City Committee.
At a Conversational Dinner in Chicago with 20 regional lay leaders and supporters, Admiral Ayalon also discussed the development and geopolitical implications of the natural gas resources off the coast of Haifa and co-existence and multiculturalism at the University.
Key points made during Admiral Ayalon’s remarks and in response to audience questions about were:
The gas finds in the Mediterranean are huge and there is scientific evidence that leads many to believe there is far more gas there. Some of it will belong to Egypt and some of it belongs to Gaza. The issue is how to do this safely from an environmental zone.
— Retrieving the gas is a major environmental challenge (a gas spill similar to what happened a few years ago in the Gulf of Mexico would result in killing most marine life in the entire Mediterranean for about 100 years because the Sea is much more closed in than the Gulf of Mexico)
— Pipes are being laid near a fault line. University of Haifa professors were the first to notify the drilling company of this and the pipes were moved.
There are significant economic and geopolitical ramifications to extracting and exporting the gas.
— The Israeli government has chosen to tax the gas 60%. This tax has acted as a deterrent to future R&D in the Mediterranean. It is very expensive to explore, extract and process the gas. The tax reduces the ability of the oil extractor, Noble Energy, to recoup costs and acts as a disincentive for further work.
— There is pressure to keep prices low for consumers. The consumer blames Noble Energy and Tshuva (the Israel partner) but it is the Israeli government’s policy.
— Keeping the gas within Israel will make it last the longest. This will reduce Israel’s dependence on importing oil/energy, but will also result in the least amount of revenue for the country.
– Several countries (Egypt, Turkey) have offered to build a pipeline directly underwater to their country. Such a pipeline would remove the need to liquefy the gas for transport and reduce costs. However, forming such a strong alliance with one or two countries could then reduce Israel’s chance to export the gas to as many countries as possible.
– Potential buyers for the gas include Egypt (until they discover their own reserves), Turkey (who buys most of their energy from Iran—reducing Turkey’s dependency on Iran is a priority), Cypress which is also an exporter.
– Most likely, Israel will continue to liquefy the gas itself for transport. There is also a possibility for transport/pipeline directly to Cypress which would allow Cypress to expand its reach as a broker of gas and increase profit margins for Israel.
The University of Haifa and the Maritime Strategy Department is working on all of these issues—the legal aspects, the environmental aspects, the technology, political, etc. These are vitally important issues with far reaching consequences and the fact that the government chose the University of Haifa to lead the efforts is incredibly significant.
The U.S. and Canada are the only country in which diversity is actually encouraged and seen as a good thing, vs. merely tolerated.
— In the past, immigrants would come to new countries and immediately look to assimilate—take on the clothes, language, customs, etc. of host countries. Today, immigrants like to retain their own customs and ways of life even after moving.
— In Europe, this practice led to isolationism. Extremists are able to play on the sense of isolationism, the fact that the immigrants—some of which are 2nd generation—are not welcome in the host community and radicalize parts of the population.
By contrast, Univ. of Haifa has always welcomed diversity. It is part of the fabric of who we are and always has been. It is what makes us different from the other Universities
— It is less of a political statement and more of an acknowledgement of what it takes to build a functional Israeli society and educate global citizens. Any world-class academic institution should welcome a range of opinions and perspectives
— Most of the center of Israel is fully developed and is no longer economically accessible to most of the country
— There is tremendous opportunity in the north for housing and economic development
— In addition to drawing students from all over the country, University of Haifa is educating the local population that wants to stay in that area.