Israel, Greece and Cyprus Advance Talks on Gas Pipeline to Europe

The leaders of Israel, Greece and Cyprus on Wednesday discussed a proposed joint project for a natural gas pipeline to western Europe. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke with Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras and Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades.

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The proposed pipeline would run from Israel to Cyprus and on to Greece. The three also discussed a new date for a summit, possibly in May. This was recently postponed amid regional tensions. Turkey is at odds with Israel over Gaza and Cyprus over offshore drilling.

The relations between Israel and Greece and Cyprus have been growing closer in the past few years, especially in security and energy fields, although some of the cooperation among them has been kept quiet due to the political tensions in the region.

Israel and Cyprus have large gas reserves in their territorial waters and a desire to export it to Europe, together with Cyprus’ close ally, Greece, whose location is a strategic transit stop.

After years of overtures, Israel signed a memorandum of understanding in December with Cyprus, Greece and Italy to advance the project, estimated at tens of billions of shekels. Israel reported some of the largest gas finds in the past decade and Cyprus has confirmed a discovery, making them both potential exporters.

The relations between Israel and Greece have been upgraded recently, mainly due to security and economic considerations, first and foremost the gas resources. The countries have been holding joint military drills and, according to foreign reports, Greece has been softening its position on the Palestinian issue in international bodies.

Israel and Cyprus have numerous shared regional interests, including, apart from the complicated relations with Turkey, the security situation in Syria and Lebanon. Both countries have good relations with Egypt, to which they plan to export gas as well.

The Israeli gas partnerships held by Delek and Noble Energy have signed in the past on the Leviathan and Tamar contract with the Egyptian company Delphinus and the Cypriot Aphrodite offshore gas field. So if pipelines are laid down in Egypt, these countries will work in close cooperation.

Recently the American Navy has had to secure vessels of the American oil giant Exxon, which are looking for gas off Cyprus’ shores, after Turkish warships tried to stop them from doing so.

Exxon and the Qatar oil company are among the foreign energy companies that signed drilling and production contracts with Cyprus. Turkey’s President Erdogan warned those companies in the past “not to cross the line,” claiming that the drilling activity was infringing on the Cypriot Turks’ rights to natural resources in the island. Cyprus says the income will be divided equally after the island is united.

Israel and Cyprus are also discussing the gas fields apparently located in both states’ economic waters.

Russia is competing with lower prices for land gas. Europe’s desire for a pipeline is linked to the will to reduce the dependence on Russia. At the same time the Iranian gas, a market Russia is entering, is under constant threat of increasing sanctions by the Trump administration.

Reports of the potential deal first emerged in January 2016 when Netanyahu told reporters in Cyprus that groups of specialists would be appointed to assess the pipeline idea.

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