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Israel 1990: Ashdod Refinery – OpEd

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When I was reviewing my past documentation, I found my visa paper which was issued by Israel Istanbul consulate in May 1990. In those years, traveling visas were issued by Israel Istanbul consulate not by Ankara embassy. It was given on a separate paper. They put no stamp on my passport. At the beginning of 1990, our American parent company received an enquiry from their past client Ashdod refinery in Israel, for rehabilitation and upgrading existing 20-year or so old package boilers in their premises.

Worn-out boiler pressure parts, seamless boiler tubes, oil burners, safety valves, pumps, control & instrumentation would be examined and then renewed if necessary. Prior to proposal preparation, we were invited to their refinery for site seeing. Our American parent company asked our JV company to carryout that site seeing mission and prepare a followup report to base our joint proposal. Job was given to your writer. So I applied to Israel Istanbul consulate for 10-day visa to visit Ashdod refinery.

Prior to THY flight to TelAviv, I passed double cross check interview at the airport. Two different teams asked questions, why I was on that flight, what I was going to TelAviv, where I would stay, when I would return, who I would visit / meet, when I would return home. They had cross checked the answers and gave the permission to fly.

After 2-hour nonstop flight, I landed in BenGurion international airport, almost 25-km far from Telaviv city center, between Telaviv and Jerusalem. I passed the passport check and customs fast, took an airport taxi, then we arrived to TelAviv Hilton to check-in. It was a 10-story comfortable standard business hotel on the seaside. Day was Saturday, Sabbath day, no work, complete stop on all facilities. It was almost at extremes such as elevators were stopping on all floors automatically. No use of push buttons. If you were not a Jew, you could work, operate, and others could use facilities as shadows together with you.

The next day on Sunday, the American parent company’s Telaviv representatives met me at hotel breakfast lounge, then they took me to their company office on the Telaviv North industrial zone. They briefed me on Ashdod refinery, the existing facility, administrators, decision makers, engineers, what they might ask, what they expected to learn. Later in the day, we had a car ride further to North to Haifa city. On a hill overlooking Haifa seaport we had dinner. On the way to Haifa we passed by an important technical university which was famous in electronics and computer sciences.

On Monday morning, our rep met me at the hotel lobby, we then drove to Ashdod refinery which was situated at the seaside almost 50-km south of Telaviv city center. Metro construction was ongoing so that city traffic was so dense. We passed by an imported coal firing thermal power plant (2x525MWe) which was built by our American parent company in the near past in Ashkelon. Two more units (sx550MWe) added 10 years after. Since Israel could not buy oil from middle east producers, they were importing cheap coal from South Africa.

We then reached to Ashdod refinery, they took us to their meeting room. Room was full of expert engineers from both genders. Number of women engineers were quite high. They were graduates of local and Western reputable technical universities. There were a number of Turkish Jews from Izmir and Istanbul who could speak Turkish. Anyhow we continued our communication in English.

I handed over our company documents, prior to my verbal presentation. In those days there were no laptop PC facilities, no powerpoint presentations, so I used projector and transparent slides. Package boiler presentation was and still is my expertise, so I let my soundtrack in my memory to speak up for about one hour, pros-cons, references, necessary equipment, controls and instrumentation, advantages, prices, rehab re powering, training, upgrading.

I encouraged them to ask questions. I was expecting more difficult questions, maybe they did not want to pressure me. Then we had lunch break. We had standard workplace menu, salad, soup, main course to select, vegetables, sweets, fruits, tea and coffee. I had a very positive feeling towards Turkish people. Each engineers had a different family story to tell how they arrived to their new homeland.

They we visited the boiler house to inspect the latest status of 20+ year old package boilers, which were supplied by our American parent company. They were in good operating conditions, although they were too old. We had new upgrading design and better equipment to operate. Refinery administrators did not allow me to take photo pictures, although package boilers were our supply and there was no secret of the existing boilers for us. They also did not want me to take any written notes. They said, “You already visited our facility, you keep your notes in your memory, you can write your report afterwards upon return your home office but not here”. I met people but I could not get their full name nor their business cards. That was their security procedure they had to follow.

Upon return to our rep office later in the day, we had a wrap-up meeting, what we have learnt during the refinery meeting, what refinery was asking, what our proposal should comprise. On that evening, our local rep informed me that they had a classical music concert in Telaviv concert hall so that they should be there before 08:00 PM. They bought tickets months in advance. It would be a close friends gathering with their wives. So they left me a hotel, and moved to concerts. At that time Israel had 7-million population and they had a concert hall with 3000- audience capacity. I would be to pleased if I would also be invited to the concert.

The next day, I arrived to BenGurion international airport by taxi. I passed through cross questioning by two different teams, one team speaking in English, the other team speaking in fluent Turkish. I had 2-hour THY flight to Istanbul, to transfer to Ankara. On my flight, I wrote my draft site seeing followup report with my hand writing. I then wrote it on my desktop computer later in the week in my office, for office distribution, and delivery to US parent company. I explained my trip, wrote down details of requirements, expectations.

However our JV company in Ankara could not make any business in Israel without making sacrifice for other MiddleEast countries. In the middle east, other countries put strict condition that you do not work in Israel. However they do not ask US or Canadian companies to obey that condition. So we transferred the request to our Canadian sister company to make the proposal, in accordance with refinery requirements. Canadian sister company delivered the proposal, they received the order to supply necessary equipment. Local installation was carried out by local subcontractors, under supervision of North American supervisors.

Our JV company had no share in this transaction other than reimbursement of my travel expenses, which was around 10k$.

What I recall in this business trip was impressions of ultra religious Jews in outskirts of Telaviv with black dresses, women soldiers with heavy infantry rifles on roads for home leave, cramped traffic due to ongoing metro construction, wide pure empty sea coast, warm weather, beautiful local meals, wonderful local wine, beautiful appetizers.

People were living as if they were in French Rivera sea coast, ignoring any terror attack with careful precautions to avoid by all means, living in an European political environment. They were comfortable optimistic people although they were living in a difficult geography. We had a number of further communication with local rep later in the year with no mutual successful result. It was very difficult to finalize any order from our end.

Middle East market was and is so great that we could not risk to involve in Israel market. It is almost 28-years since my last visit to Israel. Many events, wars, clashes have passed since then.

It was a beneficial for your writer to get experience in different working environment.

Everybody is visiting the holy places in Israel, having an isolated excursion without talking to the local people. My trip didn’t happen that way. I saw Israeli business life, met local people, visited their workplaces. It was a big win for me.

In the following years, Israel has invested in large-capacity solar energy, offshore wind. They found Mediterranean offshore natural gas deposits. They recovered from imported fuel dependence, and they plan to shut down all imported coal power plants as of 2025.

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Haluk Direskeneli

Haluk Direskeneli, is a graduate of METU Mechanical Engineering department (1973). He worked in public, private enterprises, USA Turkish JV companies (B&W, CSWI, AEP, Entergy), in fabrication, basic and detail design, marketing, sales and project management of thermal power plants. He is currently working as freelance consultant/ energy analyst with thermal power plants basic/ detail design software expertise for private engineering companies, investors, universities and research institutions. He is a member of Chamber of Turkish Mechanical Engineers Energy Working Group.

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