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The Iraq-Haifa oil pipeline • "Establishment of the largest pipeline in the Middle East"

The story of the establishment of the Iraq-Haifa oil pipeline, which shaped Haifa for generations...

On Tuesday January 22, 1935 at the terminal of the Iraqi Oil Company in Haifa Bay, the "Oil Day" celebration was held. High Commissioner Arthur Greenfelt Wauchope, British Deputy Foreign Minister Earl James Richard Stanhope, many distinguished Ahamiim, Jews and Arabs, were present. The ceremony marked the inauguration of the oil pipeline from Kirkuk in northern Iraq to Haifa, oil that has actually arrived for about three months earlier (on October 13, 1934).This article will describe the construction of the pipeline and the facilities in Haifa.

Inauguration of the terminal (photo courtesy of the Association for the History of Haifa)

the background

On August 1, 1914, the "Great War" broke out, which years later was called the First World War. The main battlefield was in northwestern Europe, where the Central Powers (Germany, Austria-Hungary and the Ottoman Empire) fought against the Allied Powers (the main ones were Great Britain, France and Russia).

The Middle East, most of which was controlled by the Ottoman Empire, was a secondary front. On May 16, 1916, a secret agreement was signed in London to divide the territories of the Ottoman Empire in the Middle East after they were occupied by the Allies, aka the Sykes-Picot Agreement. In this agreement, Britain received the enclave of Haifa Bay and Acre under its direct control. One of the main reasons for this was oil.

"The empire on which the sun never sets"

From the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century, Britain switched from the use of coal to the use of oil, both in industry and for use in the British Navy, the navy thanks to which it became "the empire on which the sun never sets." The oil that was discovered at the end of the 19th century in southwestern Persia and northern Iraq was, as mentioned, one of the main factors in delineating the borders in the Sykes-Picot Agreement. According to the British calculations, the route to transfer the oil from northern Iraq through the Persian Gulf, the Red Sea and the Suez Canal to the Mediterranean Sea was about 7,000 km long, however, the distance from the oil fields in northern Iraq to Haifa was only about a thousand km, so the British decided to use this route .

The establishment of the Iraqi oil company I.P.C

In 1912, the "Turkish Oil Company" T.P.C was established whose purpose was to search for oil in the Mesopotamia region, the owners of the company were European corporations: British, German and Dutch. In April 1920, with the end of the war, the legal status of the company was raised at the San Remo Conference which discussed the division of the territories of the Ottoman Empire.

The pipelines from Iraq to Haifa and Tripoli (photo courtesy of the Association for the History of Haifa)

Distribution of mandates

At the conference, the Sykes-Picot agreement was also approved and the mandates were distributed in our regions. In 1925, the "Turkish Oil Company" received a concession to search for oil in Iraq and two years later the company discovered a huge oil field in northern Iraq, near the cities of Mozul and Kirkuk (the field was called "Baba Gurgur" - father of fire). This discovery hastened the division of ownership of the company and on July 31, 1928, an agreement was signed that divided the ownership among several international companies and within this framework the "Iraqi Oil Company" I.P.C. owned by Great Britain and Iraq was established. The purpose of the company was to develop the fields in northern Iraq, to ​​transport the oil to Haifa and from there to Britain.

France, which according to the Sykes-Picot Agreement was supposed to receive northern Iraq under its control, agreed to transfer the territory to Great Britain in exchange for assistance with the enormous reparations demands from Germany at the Versailles Conference (June 1919) as well as in exchange for a share in the profits of the Iraqi oil company. During the discussions on the establishment of the company and the route of the transfer of the oil, she demanded France to move the pipeline to Beirut under its control, while Britain demanded to move it to Haifa under its control.

The largest pipeline in the Middle East

The solution was to please both countries and it was agreed on the construction of a pipeline, the largest in the Middle East at the time. The pipeline was supposed to start from the Kirkuk oil field west about 240 km to the city of Haditha and from there split. The northern arm was supposed to continue for about 608 km (848 km in total) to the port city Tripoli in Lebanon which was under French control, where an oil terminal will be built. This line is called the T line (see map no. 1). The southern arm was supposed to continue through the north of the Jordan River to Haifa, a distance of 752 km (992 km in total) and this line was called the H line. The diameter of the pipe was 12 inches (30.5 cm) and the flow capacity was supposed to to be about a million tons of oil per year in each of the two arms.

The map of the pipeline in Israel (photo courtesy of the Association for the History of Haifa)

The preparations for the construction of the pipeline

On January 5, 1931, an agreement was signed between the representative of the Iraqi oil company and the third High Commissioner John Robert Chancellor, the title of the agreement: "Regulating the passage of I.P.C.'s mineral oils through the territory of Palestine." The agreement was for a period of 70 years and underwent several changes, with its final version being signed on October 18, 1933 by the fourth High Commissioner Arthur Grinfell Wauchpe.

The British government in Israel published in records a long series of orders related to the activities of the Iraqi oil company in Israel, starting with the subject of land expropriation, the construction of facilities and oil tanks, and the movement of company vehicles in Israel. As part of these orders, the company received generous benefits and concessions.

On February 18, 1929, a meeting of the Central Committee for City Building was held in Jerusalem with the participation of Haifa Municipality Engineer Assaf Ziprin. At the meeting, the areas to be expropriated for the purpose of establishing the various oil facilities, the transportation infrastructure, changing the route of the Kishon stream and more were determined. It is worth noting that the Hebrew institutions opposed these land expropriations because they constituted an injury to the KKL-Jden lands in the area, intended for Jewish settlement.

Talk of the day August 6.8.1934, XNUMX (photo courtesy of the Association for Haifa History)

Large international oil companies are coming to Haifa

Work on the project began in Iraq in the middle of 1930. In August 1932, the first shipment of pipes arrived at the port of Haifa and was transported by train to Makrak in northern Jordan and the Jezreel Valley. The company brought to Israel a fleet of trucks to move the pipes and the most advanced mechanical engineering equipment in the world.
The fact that Haifa is supposed to be the origin of the pipeline, attracted to the city large international oil companies such as: Shell, Vacuum, SunChief, Caucaz and others who bought large areas of land in the Haifa Bay to build oil facilities.

The British-owned Turkish Persian oil company moved its center of activity from Beirut to Haifa and purchased an area of ​​about a thousand dunams for the construction of facilities and oil tanks. The Iraqi oil company rented the "Windsor" hotel in the German colony in the city for its offices, and after about six months, its offices were moved to a building built by Aziz Hayat on Hagfen Street (the building now houses a nursing home).

After teams of surveyors marked the route of the pipeline, a strip of land 15 meters wide was excavated for this purpose. Tent camps were built in Iraq and Jordan for the workers said to lay the pipeline, ferries were built on the Euphrates and Tigris for the passage of the trucks and heavy equipment and other infrastructure related to the project.

In the Jezreel Valley (photo courtesy of the Association for the History of Haifa)

The works in the field

On April 15, 1933, a workers' camp was opened in the Jezreel Valley near Kibbutz Ein Harod, with dozens of living tents, a dining room, water taps, showers, a clinic and other infrastructure, and at the same time the works began. along the route that was already marked in the field and that the pipes were scattered along it. Initially, the "trencher" worked as an excavator that dug a narrow trench to a depth of one meter. At the same time, welders welded the parts of the pipe to each other and then with the help of a special device the pipe is coated with tar against the rust. In the next step, the pipe was lifted by a crane and lowered into the trench, where it was covered with dirt and compacted. In places where the ground was rocky and could not be dug, explosives were used.

The laying of the pipeline in the Jezreel Valley (photo courtesy of the Association for the History of Haifa)

The tank farm

On April 25, the camp was moved from Ein Harod to Kfar Baruch. On June 15, after the completion of the work in northern Jordan, the workers were transferred from there to a new camp built next to the Israel camp (kibbutz Debrat Dahayom) and there were about 750 Arab workers and about 40 Jewish workers.

Even earlier, on the coast in Haifa Bay, on expropriated land, the construction of a terminal and tank farm began for the purpose of receiving and storing the crude oil that is supposed to arrive from Iraq. 44 tanks with a capacity of 12,000 cubic meters each were built on the site, as well as control and supervision facilities and offices. In August 1930, the "Shell" company laid two parallel pipes for the Iraqi company, 750 meters from the shore in the waters of the Gulf, where the pipes were connected with a flexible pipe to a buoy to which the tankers were supposed to connect (in September 1945, two more pipes were laid).

The terminal at Kiryat Haim Beach (photo courtesy of the Haifa History Association)

Iraq-Haifa telephone line

At the same time, 12 pumping stations (boosters) were built along the two sections of the pipeline (the T line and the H line) to pump the oil through the pipeline. Each of the stations had 6 diesel pumps of 500 horsepower each. Adjacent to some of these stations, army camps and airstrips were built to protect them (including fields H-2 and H-3 remembered from the Six Day War). Parallel to the pipeline, an overhead telephone line was built that connected Iraq with Haifa. This telephone line was inaugurated in November 1935 and through the Haifa exchange it was possible to conduct calls between Baghdad and Cairo. In the middle of July 1934, the oil arrived in Tripoli in Lebanon and was sent in a French tanker to two refineries in France that were built especially for this purpose.

Dever 15.1.1935/XNUMX/XNUMX (photo courtesy of the Association for Haifa History)

Pipeline inauguration celebrations

On January 14, 1935, a solemn ceremony was held in the oil field in Kirkuk in which King Ghazi I of Iraq opened the valve that flowed the crude oil west to the terminal in Tripoli (it took 10 days for the oil to reach the Mediterranean Sea from northern Iraq). As mentioned, it was the largest oil pipeline in the Middle East at the time and the ceremony was covered by the world press. In the Devar newspaper (January 15.1.1935, XNUMX) it was written: "The mouth of the pipeline opened - King Gazi opened the cap over the oil pipeline and a stream of oil from the fields of Mosul set out on its journey through five countries to the Mediterranean Sea...". In the Times of London it was written with British conceit: "Technically the factory may serve as a promoter in these backward countries...".

Talk of the day August 22.1.1935, XNUMX (photo courtesy of the Association for Haifa History)

oil holiday

On October 13, 1934, the first shipment of oil arrived in Haifa with 14,000 tons and it was loaded onto a tanker that was already waiting and sent immediately to Britain. After the inauguration of the pipeline in Kirkuk and the arrival of the oil in Haifa, the "Oil Festival" was established here in Haifa.

On Tuesday, January 22, 1935, about 300 guests gathered at the terminal of the Iraqi Oil Company on the shore of Haifa Bay. Among them was Haifa Mayor Hassan Shukri and members of the city council, Jewish and Arab clergy and dignitaries. In large tents built especially for the event, a festive meal was served, after which it was the turn of the speeches. High Commissioner Sir Arthur Walkoff said in his speech, among other things: "I am sure that the opening of the pipeline will be of great benefit to Palestine and the neighboring countries. As High Commissioner, I am happy that the last cargo stations are located in the port of Haifa...". Sir John Cadman (Cadman), the chairman of the Iraqi Oil Company, said: "This country contains only 40 miles (about 64 km) of our line, but its importance to our enterprise is not measured only by the number of miles...." . The guests toured the facilities and the High Commissioner climbed to the top of one of the containers and looked over the terminal facilities. Two days later, the inauguration ceremony of the pipeline was also held in Amman with the participation of Emir Abdullah (he was crowned king only in 1946).

Inauguration of the terminal (photo courtesy of the Association for the History of Haifa)

Pipeline activity

In April 1936, a year and a quarter after the inauguration of the pipeline in Haifa, the "Great Arab Revolt" broke out - the events of 1936-9 and the pipeline was a favorite target for terrorist attacks. The section that was mostly damaged was between the Jordan Valley and the Jezreel Valley where the gang members used to arrive at night, dig to a depth of about 70 cm and after exposing the pipe, shot several bullets into it. After oil accumulated in the pit, they threw in a burning rag and disappeared. The British suffered heavy damage and did not managed to solve the problem.

In September 1936, a young Arabic-speaking British intelligence officer, Captain Ord Charles Wingate, arrived in Israel and was assigned to Haifa at the 5th Division headquarters, which was responsible for fighting gangs in the north of the country. Wingate, who stayed in Haifa for only 3 months, became a fan of the Zionist enterprise in Israel and was called "the friend". At the beginning of June 1938, after thorough tests, he submitted to the British command a revolutionary plan to fight gang terrorism against the oil pipeline and his plan was approved.

Inauguration of the terminal (photo courtesy of the Association for the History of Haifa)

"The special night cruises"

On June 13 he established a special unit "Special Night Squads" based in Kibbutz Ein Harod and numbered 18 soldiers and a British officer and 24 Jewish fighters. At its peak, the unit numbered about 75 Jewish fighters and about 40 British officers and soldiers and it led to a drastic decrease in attacks on the oil pipeline. Wingate left the country in October 1938 and the unit was finally disbanded in January 1939.

In October 1936, the British established the C.R.L. (Consolidated Refineries Limited) which aims to establish a refinery for the crude oil that comes from Iraq. In October 1938, construction work began near the terminal of the Iraqi Oil Company, and in November 1939, the first of the two planned refining units was put into operation.

14.1.1935 (photo courtesy of the Haifa History Association)

"Oil for 100 years!"

As I recall, the line to Tripoli started operating in July 1934, and to Haifa in October 1934 and until May 1935, close to a million tons of crude oil flowed through the pipelines. In 1936, about 100,000 tons more arrived in Haifa than the previous year, and in 1937, close to two million tons of oil with a value of over one and a half million pounds sterling arrived in Haifa. By the end of 1937, about four million tons were produced from the wells in the Kirkuk area. In the month of December 1938 alone, 147,718 tons of crude oil arrived in Haifa and in light of the quantities, the Iraqi Oil Company planned to build another 11 huge tanks in Haifa. A French expert boasted in a press interview: "The company can supply oil to England and France for a hundred years...!". In light of the success of the project, there was talk of building another line adjacent to the existing line and in 1945 it was announced that the new line would have a diameter of 16 inches (40.6 cm).

Talk of the day August 21.2.1935, XNUMX (photo courtesy of the Association for Haifa History)

The oil installations are bombed

On September 1, 1939, World War II broke out and on Monday, July 15, 1940 at 9:30, she arrived in Haifa. 5 Italian bombers that took off from Rhodes bombed the fuel facilities in Haifa Bay. An empty fuel tank was hit directly and two other tanks were hit by shrapnel, and the fuel in them started to burn. Over the course of two years, the oil installations were bombed about 25 times by Italian, German and French bombers, but the production and transportation of oil, which was essential to the British war effort, was not harmed.

Even after November 29, 1947, with the acceptance of the partition plan at the United Nations (Resolution 181) and the outbreak of fighting in Israel, oil continued to flow through the pipeline. It was only at the end of April 1948, about three weeks before the declaration of statehood, that the pipeline was closed and Iraqi oil stopped reaching Haifa.

In March 2003, when Iraq was held by the American army, Infrastructure Minister Yosef Pritsky asked to check the possibility of resuming the flow of oil from Iraq to Haifa, which of course did not come to fruition.

The pipeline at Kiryat Haim beach (photo courtesy of the Association for the History of Haifa)

The design of Haifa for future generations

In January 2017, the state-owned oil and energy infrastructure company, which inherited the facilities of the Iraqi oil company, conducted, at the request of the Ministry of the Environment, an underwater operation to dispose of the remains of the original pipes that were laid on the seabed in 1930. The remains of the rusty and rotten pipes were pulled from the sea and raised On the beach as a silent monument to the largest and first oil pipeline project in the Middle East.
The project, which was part of the agreements to shape the borders of the Middle East after the First World War, was very ambitious for its time, but despite all the difficulties and obstacles, it was carried out in a relatively short time and fulfilled the expectations of it and even beyond that.

The design of the city of Haifa, which had an important part in the project, was determined for future generations in light of strategic, economic and other considerations of the empire on which the sun never sets.

Contact Chai here: At watsapBy email

Yigal Greiber
Yigal Greiber
Member of the Haifa History Association

Articles related to this topic

9 תגובות

  1. Very interesting, thank you very much, Yigal. I came to your article as a result of my desire to document the part of the members of the Beit al-Hasitah in the laying of the oil pipeline. Because in one of the records of the founders of the kibbutz it is written: "In the summer of 1933 - the labor issue at the IPC", without specifying what is meant.
    Maybe you know? Thank you.

  2. The pollution in the air from the refineries remains for us as an anardata for the oil pipeline line.

  3. All respect and appreciation to Legal Graeber who was able to convey to us with the Rabbi's knowledge and skill another chapter in the history of Haifa. The article opens a window to an important issue in the history of Haifa, the consequences of which affect the city today.
    The article is fascinating and interesting and manages to jump between periods and historical events and keep the focus - Haifa and its history.
    I'm already waiting for Yigal Greiber's next article. Inhale big!!!

  4. H-2 H-3 starred not only in the Six Days as airports, but also in the Gulf War as missile launch sites from Iraq to Israel.

  5. Very interesting Yigal. Congratulations on a comprehensive and interesting article
    Join the Haifa History Association.
    You will hear many other interesting stories

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