Israel’s agreement with Egypt for the transfer of offshore natural gas from the giant Leviathan field to the two stations in Egypt and its export from there to Europe in the form of LNG sends important messages. An Agreement that, however, poses a series of new challenges for all countries in the region.
On Sunday, during the Egyptian minister’s first visit to Israel since 2016, Energy Minister Tarek El Molla met with the Israeli leadership and announced, together with his Israeli counterpart Steinitch, the agreement to build an offshore pipeline from Leviathan to Egypt. Mr. Steinic even announced that work has already begun on concluding a formal agreement, which will lead to an increase in Israeli gas exports to Europe.
At the same time, however, Molla visited the Palestinian Authority and signed an agreement to boost the development of a gas field 30 miles off Gaza, which is estimated to contain up to one trillion cubic feet of gas.
The Israel-Egypt agreement is also of particular importance at the political-diplomatic level.
It practically puts an end to Turkey’s ambition and demand to secure a share of the Eastern Mediterranean’s natural wealth either directly by controlling the sources or as a hub for gas transportation. Turkey’s demand was to transport Eastern Mediterranean gas to Europe via a pipeline from its territory, which would give it an almost monopoly role, along with Russia, in supplying Europe with natural gas. The gas-producing countries in the Eastern Mediterranean would automatically be dependent on the country holding the pipeline keys, namely Turkey.
The Israel-Egypt agreement weakens the East Med pipeline project that would end up in Greece, a project that was more political in nature from the outset, as it is extremely difficult to implement due to high costs and oil market conditions. However, as a political project supported by all actors in the region except Turkey, it remains alive and offers opportunities for cooperation. In addition, on the basis of the design of this pipeline, which always remains in the design as it will depend on future gas discoveries, the important “Eastern Mediterranean Gas Forum” (EMGF) has been created, which has acquired an institutional form and is now based in Cairo. Both Cyprus and Greece have an essential role to play in this Forum.
However, for Greece it is now possible to take advantage of the possibilities for its conversion into a LNG reception node from Egypt and channeling to the European market either through the existing infrastructure to Italy that will be interconnected with Crete or through the vertical interconnection pipelines with Bulgaria. .
For Cyprus, too, the manipulations for the development of the Aphrodite deposit, the first one located in the Cypriot EEZ, are limited, as the Agreement with Israel is pending (since the deposit extends on both sides of the demarcation line) and now the choice for interconnection will be on the table. with the pipeline that will transport Leviathan gas to Egypt for export to Europe.
With its intervention, Egypt breaks the “monopoly” of protection of the Palestinians that Mr. Erdogan tried to claim and at the same time appears as a guarantor of the interests of the Palestinians vis-.-Vis Israel.
The fact that in the midst of a pandemic Israel received Prime Minister K. Mitsotakis on February 8, the President of Cyprus N. Anastasiadis on February 14 and the Egyptian Minister of Energy on Sunday 21 February and a close associate of President Al Sisi, Tarek El Molla, shows that the two parallel Tripartites have gained a depth that goes beyond simple trade, economic, etc. relations.
This cooperation also sends a message to the new US administration, which continues to consider Israel and Egypt as pillars of its foreign policy in the region, but has several objections and differences in its approach to the Trump administration, whether they focus on human rights in the Egypt or in Israel’s policy towards Iran and the Palestinians.
Cairo and Tel Aviv, through this agreement and the tripartite cooperation with Greece and Cyprus, declare that they are factors of stability and guarantors of security in the region and at the same time the EMGF can be an important alternative energy source for Europe. In a way that reinforces the US strategic choice to diversify energy sources and routes to Europe.
And of course it is no coincidence that the new US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken in his speech yesterday at the EU Council of Foreign Ministers, after saying that Turkey should be on the side of the West, praised and expressed full support for cooperation 3+ 1, ie the tripartite Greece-Cyprus Israel and the USA. A statement highlighting the new challenges and opportunities that are opening up in the Eastern Mediterranean region.
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