James Stevenson/the Gauntlet

Conservative interest in Israel’s preservation possibly economic

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Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s visit to Israel should raise speculation on the motivation for a friendly relationship between Canada and Israel, two dissimilar states.

The visit is possibly the personal decision of hardline right wingers in the Conservative Party, possibly influenced by the Evangelical Christian belief that Jewish people are chosen by God and Israel is their homeland. After all, Stephen Harper is an Evangelical Christian. The Globe and Mail suggested that the Conservatives are trying to court Jewish voters, who are traditionally Liberal party supporters. The Harper government’s official statement claims that it is simply supporting a democratic ally surrounded by chaos, brutality and dictatorships.

Each of these possibilities has merit, but what hasn’t been considered is the simplest answer — Canada and Israel both benefit from maintaining trade sanctions on Iran.

Israel plainly perceives Iran as a threat to their security. Any loosening of sanctions will allow Iran to fill its coffers with oil money that can be used to fund Hezbollah, the Iranian fighting force fighting with the Israelis in Lebanon. Stephen Harper’s Conservatives have little reason to fear Hezbollah. But they likely fear a potential flooding of oil markets should sanctions on Iran be lifted. Should the price of crude decline, the Canadian government could run into the same economic problems of the 1980s but without a Liberal party scapegoat.

The Harper government is in trouble. Their standings have plummeted in the polls amidst scandal. In a 2012 by-election in Calgary’s city center, the heart of the Conservative base, the Conservatives only narrowly escaped defeat by a Liberal contender, Harvey Locke.

Complicating matters is the stalemate of Keystone Light pipeline which was to bring Alberta bitumen across the border to the southern United States for export. The pipeline seemed like a rallying point for the Conservatives and other pro-oil allies to supply the U.S. with a steady supply of crude. Unfortunately, an unexpectedly powerful environmental lobby has caused major gridlock and left the fate of the project in question.

The Keystone issue now resembles a scale with economic merits weighed on one end and environmental roadblocks on the other. Both sides seem evenly matched and there has been no progress either way. A significant drop in oil prices, such as the hypothetical one that could result from loosening Iranian sanctions could tip the balance. With cheap Iranian oil glutting the market, the environmentalist lobby will likely contend that there is no need to exploit Alberta’s supposedly dirty oil when prices have already dropped to relatively low prices and the pipeline might be declined. This will be a serious blow to the already vulnerable Conservative Party.

Whether or not the specifics of this issue has been brought up in conservative circles is hard to know but it seems plausible that the Harper government is deciding Iran’s political fate with an economic rather than ideological eye. The Conservatives’ primary economic interests lie in expansion of the oil sands. They have demonstrated the extremes to which they will go to protect this mission — rewriting environmental regulations, throwing treaty rights out the window and muzzling Canadian scientists. Naturally, they will take their own economic strategies into consideration when planning their foreign policy regarding Iran, one of the most oil-rich areas on the planet.