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A Comparative History of National Oil Companies


Edited By Alain Beltran

Oil is undoubtedly rather more than a mere hydrocarbon. It is a development factor, an essential element in energy balances, a strategic weapon, a resource characterized by unequal distribution, and also by unequal consumption. For more than a century now, it has showed its importance, whether during periods of crisis, or at times of strong growth.
Under such circumstances, few countries have allowed mere market laws to operate freely. Whether visible or discreet, the hand of the State has been present in many cases, depending on different purposes and taking various forms. Hence national companies developed, if only in order to deal with the Majors and their greatly feared power. One finds examples of national companies both in Western Europe and in certain developing countries that have substantial resources on their soil. Those companies did not all experience the same destiny, but they have sometimes influenced the rules of the oil game.
The colloquium held in Paris in 2003 («National oil companies: history, characteristics, comparisons from the inter-war period to the end of the 20 th century») provided some new facts and viewpoints in connection with this history, still relatively unknown.
You will read contributions here from various horizons making it possible to illuminate the present and the near future, since oil industry issues continue to challenge the world.


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PART IV EXTERNAL CONSTRAINTS 291 Delek: the Formative Period of Israel’s National Oil Company Uri BIALER Hebrew University, Jerusalem, Israel The paper is taken from my book Oil and the Arab-Israeli Conflict 1948-63 (St. Antony’s/Macmillan, London 1999) which focuses on Israel’s attempts to ensure regular oil supply in the first decade of its existence. Oil was as vital to Israel as were external sources of finance, immigration, and arms – the three other needs which had to be met and on which Israel was sorely dependent in its formative stages. But while there is an extensive literature, partial though it may be in scope, on the country’s attempts to secure these last three needs and on the implica- tions of those attempts, the subject of my study has not been given similar treatment. Anyone interested in the question had to settle for the few pages devoted to it in Benjamin Shwadran’s book, Middle East Oil, Blessing and Threat, published nearly 30 years ago. The prime reason for this historiographical lacuna was the secretive attitude adopted for decades by Israel’s leaders towards the issue of oil supplies, which was no less stringent than that applied to matters of conventional national security. This virtually precluded any contemporary journalistic treat- ment of the issue. These restrictions have been relaxed in recent years, and primary material of supreme importance has been made available in Israeli and foreign archives. This development has opened up a central area of hitherto unknown activity, and thus exposed an important...

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