Israel Proposes an East Med Gas Pipeline
Israel called on the EU to support the East Med pipeline project that would connect the natural gas fields in Israel and Cyprus to the EU via Greece. Israel’s Energy Minister Silvan Shalom reportedly stressed on the importance of the project when addressing the European Commission’s new energy chief Maros Sefcovic at an event hosted by the Italian EU presidency earlier this week. The Cypriots also seem supportive of such an endeavour, the Cypriot Foreign Minister receiving Israel’s suggestion positively and stating that a viability study was being conducted.
The proposed pipeline could turn the Eastern Mediterranean into a natural gas hub that would contribute to EU’s quest to diversify its sources of supply. It could also provide Europe with a cheaper source of natural gas. Its success would however depend, like always, on a solution for the various geopolitical problems in the region. The US and the UN remain committed to solving the Cyprus’ problem, one of the many pending political issues in the Eastern Mediterranean. The island has been divided since 1974 and the failure to achieve a sustainable and fair settlement has led to increased tensions since the discovery of substantial hydrocarbon in Cyprus’ Exclusive Economic Zone.
Last month, Tukey issued a NAVTEX announcing its intention to conduct surveys covering Cypriot waters and sent a Turkish vessel into Cyrpus’ EEZ. Whilst the ENI/KOGAS consortium, currently searching for gas in block 9 of Cyprus’ maritime waters pursued its plan despite Turkey’s intervention, the renewed tension was interpreted as a sign that the road ahead will be bumpy unless a solution for the divided island was achieved. As a result of Turkey’s action, Cyprus suspended its participation in the UN-led peace talks with Turkey. Turkey accuses Cyprus of unilateral drilling that will only benefit the Greek side of Cyprus dismissing comments from the Republic of Cyprus’ officials that the gas wealth will benefit equally all Cypriots.
Israel’s support for an East Med pipeline comes after various signs that Israel is intending to export gas to its immediate neighbours first, Jordan, the Palestinian Authority and Egypt. Israel also expressed its intention to use Egypt’s unused export facilities to reach export markets. However, regional deals remain fraught with political sensitivities. In fact, the recent escalation of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict questioned the likelihood of the Israeli-Jordanian deal ever coming to fruition.
The international community is committed to supporting the Eastern Mediterranean’s path towards energy production and its entry in the natural gas export market. Joe Biden, during a recent visit to Istanbul, stressed on the urgent need to solve the Cyprus’ problem, conveying President Anastasiades’ wish to see the division end. US Vice President also highlighted the importance of the gas finds for both communities on the condition that Greek and Turkish Cypriots cooperate.
Clearly there are various obstacles in the way of an effective development of the hydrocarbon wealth in the Eastern Mediterranean. Cooperation will benefit all the countries involved, including Turkey. But a question remains: how will Lebanon benefit from such grandiose undertakings? Will Lebanon be left out?
Karen Ayat is an analyst and Associate Partner at Natural Gas Europe focused on energy geopolitics. She holds an LLM in Commercial Law from City University London and a Bachelor of Laws from Université Saint Joseph in Beirut. Email Karen firstname.lastname@example.org Follow her on Twitter: @karenayat