A London-based news outlet has claimed Israel is the largest buyer of Islamic State oil, saying it has uncovered a smuggling network that provides the Jewish state with thousands of barrels at dirt-cheap prices.
Al-Araby Al-Jadeed, which publishes a widely read newspaper in Arabic and English and is linked to accused former Knesset member Azmi Bishara, claims Kurdish and Turkish smugglers transport the oil out of Syria and Iraq before selling it at rock bottom prices. According to the report, which was denied by Jerusalem, Israel is the primary buyer of the oil, with “several brokers” involved in purchase and transport.
Most of the oil comes from two fields in Iraq and the Deir el-Zour site in Syria, where production runs from sunset to sunrise supervised by workers and engineers kept on in their jobs by IS after it captured the territory, according to the report.
It is then transported to the Kurdish city of Zakhu in a triangle of land near the borders of Syria, Iraq and Turkey where Israeli and Turkish mediators bid on the shipments.
Once a price is agreed upon, the oil is transported to the Turkish city of Silop and marked as originating from Kurdish regions of Iraq.
“It is then most frequently transported from Turkey to Israel, via knowing or unknowing middlemen,” the report claims.
A Foreign Ministry spokesperson in Jerusalem said the report was “groundless science fiction.”
According to the Associated Press, IS controls almost all of Syria’s oil fields, concentrated in the east of the country and producing some 30,000 barrels a day, along with one field in Iraq. It smuggles most abroad, mainly to Turkey, selling at cut-rate prices and generating nearly $50 million a month.
The issue of who buys the group’s oil has recently become wrapped up in a spat between Moscow and Ankara over the downing of a Russian plane on the Syria-Turkey border.
Russia has claimed that Turkey shot down its plane to protect what he described as Turkish profiteering from the oil trade with the Islamic State group and has slapped a package of sanctions against Turkish products.
Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan has said he is prepared to step down if Russia can prove the oil claims and has urged Russian President Vladimir Putin to do the same if he can’t prove them.
Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova told The Associated Press that Russia had intelligence about Turkey buying oil from the IS group a while ago but preferred not to publicize it.
“We had this information before and we were working with our partners, with Turkey, with the coalition, with our Western colleagues on this matter but we didn’t do it publicly,” she said. “We tried many times to convince them to change their approach to this matter, to their relationship with various organizations.”
According to the al-Araby al-Jadeed report, the chief Israeli mediator is a man with Greek-Israeli citizenship who goes by the names of Dr. Farid, Hajji Farid or Uncle Farid. Farid is “usually accompanied by two strong-built men in a black Jeep Cherokee.” Al Araby says it would be too dangerous to take a photo of Farid but provides a “representative drawing” of the ostensible Israeli mediator.
In August the Financial Times reported Israel obtains up to 75 percent of its oil supplies from Iraqi Kurdistan, having imported nearly 1 billion dollars’ worth of oil from the region in the past few months alone.
According to the report, Israel purchased 19 million barrels of Kurdish oil, worth roughly $1 billion, between May and August of this year. The massive amount meets two-thirds of the Jewish state’s oil needs and may be a way to covertly support the Kurds’ fight against the Islamic State, the report said.
“Israeli demand runs at roughly 240,000 barrels per day. More than a third of all of the northern Iraqi exports, which are shipped from Turkey’s Mediterranean port of Ceyhan, went to Israel over the period,” read the report. Industry sources said Israel may have stored or exported some of the oil.
The Kurdistan Regional Government denied selling the oil “directly or indirectly” to Israel, but said that its main concern was funding the battle against IS and preserving the functioning of government.
“We do not care where the oil goes once we have delivered it to the traders,” a senior Kurdish government adviser in Erbil told the Financial Times. “Our priority is getting the cash to fund our peshmerga forces against Daesh [the Arabic term for IS] and to pay civil servants’ salaries.”
The report stressed that Israel aside, the Kurds in Iraq have exported oil to Italy, France and Greece, deepening a dispute between the Kurds and the Iraqi leadership over oil exports.
An Islamic State representative told Al Araby Al-Jadeed the group did not intend to provide oil to Israel but was not involved in the process once it was sold on.
“To be fair, the [IS] organisation sells oil from caliphate territories but does not aim to sell it to Israel or any other country,” he said. “It produces and sells it via mediators, then companies, who decide whom to sell it to.”
Launched in 2014, the Qatari-funded Al-Araby Al-Jadeed has been criticized for links to the Muslim Brotherhood movement, with CEO Islam Lutfi a well-known former leader of the outlawed group in Egypt.
The news outlet was targeted by Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi who said it had been founded with the aim of “spreading chaos” in the region.
Six months after launching its website, Al-Araby started distribution of a daily newspaper, supervised by former Israeli Knesset member Azmi Bishara, who fled Israel in 2007 after being questioned on suspicion of receiving money from Syria and engaging in illegal contact with “enemy states.”
Times of Israel staff and agencies contributed to this report.