Energy Nation

Israel-focused energy organization pivots to focus exclusively on Abraham Accords

Amid a global shift away from fossil fuels, Council for a Secure America pivots to focus on Israel-Gulf relations

Alex Brandon/AP Photo

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, United Arab Emirates Foreign Minister Abdullah bin Zayed al-Nahyan and Bahrain Foreign Minister Khalid bin Ahmed Al Khalifa, stand on the Blue Room Balcony during the Abraham Accords signing ceremony on the South Lawn of the White House, Tuesday, Sept. 15, 2020, in Washington.

The Abraham Accords marked a major shift in Middle East diplomacy and provided a new opportunity for technology, security and cultural exchanges across the region. But a little-noticed side effect of the normalization agreements between Israel and several Arab nations — its potential consequences for the energy industry and the world’s climate — is now coming into sharper view.

Victoria Coates, a former Trump administration official and an architect of the normalization agreements between Israel and the Arab countries, argues that the deals would not have been possible had Israel not begun commercial production of natural gas in 2019. 

“It’s my position that the Abraham Accords, absent the shift in Israel’s energy posture, would not have occurred,” Coates, who served as special advisor to Energy Secretary Dan Brouillette in the Trump administration, told Jewish Insider. Seizing on that insight, she joined the advisory board of the Council for a Secure America (CSA), a nonprofit originally founded in the 1980s to build ties between the American energy industry and the pro-Israel community, to rewrite its mission to focus exclusively on furthering the goal of the Abraham Accords within the energy industry. According to the new mission statement, which was unveiled last week, CSA will work to connect people working in the oil and gas industry in the U.S. with counterparts in Israel and Gulf nations, and to make American professionals aware of the benefits of working with Israel. 

The move underscores the degree to which the diplomatic agreements have also opened the door to lucrative business opportunities for energy companies both in the U.S. and Gulf countries.  

Last year Chevron acquired Noble Energy, a Houston-based company that has been a top investor in the Israeli energy sector. “What the Chevron deal meant was that U.S. energy [companies] were no longer afraid of going into Israel. Historically, they had been terrified, because the fear was, [if] you go into Israel the Gulf was going to freeze you out in some kind of boycott,” Coates explained. With the largest American energy company now invested in Israeli natural gas, the landscape changed for Gulf nations as well, Coates argued. “I think it will make Israel a very attractive partner to a lot of our Gulf allies,” she said.

CSA’s new mission comes as alternative forms of energy have gained traction in recent years, particularly in the wake of climate change caused by the burning of fossil fuels. The organization worried about staying relevant as political winds shifted against the core of its mission.

“There is a major, major, major movement away from fossil fuel towards alternative fuels,” said Fred Zeidman, the co-chair of CSA’s board and a longtime oil industry executive and Republican activist. “We decided we had to come up with some way to expand the agenda of the Council for a Secure America. What we could not do was to forsake fossil fuel, because that was 100% of our whole mission.” Cooperating with Gulf nations was an easy choice; energy is those countries’ primary source of revenue. 

The organization has a diverse array of supporters — former Rep. Steve Israel (D-NY) is on CSA’s advisory board and it was, in part, founded by Malcolm Hoenlein, the vice chair of the nonpartisan Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations. As a nonprofit, CSA is also nonpartisan. “I’ve been very encouraged by everything the new administration has said, about their ongoing support for the Abraham Accords,” said Coates. “It’s vitally important that it be bipartisan.”

CSA joins the small but growing industry of think tanks and other nongovernmental organizations looking to further the work of the Abraham Accords. CSA plans to work with the Abraham Accords Institute for Peace, a nonprofit founded earlier this year by former senior Trump administration officials Jared Kushner, Avi Berkowitz andRob Greenway to increase trade and tourism between Israel and the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Morocco, Oman, Sudan — the countries that signed onto the agreements.

“We want to be in a place where if any of our folks [in the oil industry] say, ‘Hey, look, I really got something I want to sell into Dubai or into Oman,’ that we can connect them either directly or with Rob [Greenway] and Victoria [Coates],” said Zeidman. 

The organization also aims to bolster America’s credibility within the energy industry. “For us as an American institution, to be able to connect with both Israel and with the Gulf and with Eastern Mediterranean countries that are interested in these things and coordinate, it amplifies our role in that global market for fossil fuels,” noted Coates. 

CSA does not intend to only engage with the countries that were part of last year’s Abraham Accords. Coates pointed to Egypt, which has had a diplomatic agreement with Israel for more than 40 years but has only recently seen economic cooperation increase, as exemplified by the Egyptian energy minister’s recent visit to Israel. She also wants CSA to help move the Abraham Accords forward: “I would be very hopeful that Saudi Arabia would see it the same way,” she said.

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