Proposed Pipeline Would Bring Israeli Gas to Europe
Israel has reached an agreement with Cyprus, Greece, and Italy to begin work on an underwater pipeline designed to transfer natural gas from the eastern Mediterranean Sea to Europe. The so-called EastMed Pipeline, 2,200 kilometers (1,350 miles) in length, is envisioned to bring gas from under the sea between Israel and Cyprus to European markets via Greece and Italy.
The $7 billion project would carry up to 20 billion cubic meters (706 billion cubic feet) of natural gas each year from the Israeli offshore gas fields called Leviathan and Tamar to supply Europe’s growing demand. It also would help Europe diversify its energy sources and reduce European dependence on Russia.
The pipeline would mark a milestone for Israel. Not only would it offer the Jewish state direct access to the lucrative European energy market, it also would give Israel—as a newfound strategic supplier of energy to Europe—an opportunity to reset European-Israeli relations, which for decades have been strained by anti-Israel animus.
Israeli Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz said the pipeline could also reduce Arab leverage over Europe. “For decades, we have complained about the Arab influence in Europe due to oil and gas,” he said. “The export of gas to Europe will moderate this influence to a certain extent and be a counterweight to Arab power.”
The project, which the Israeli government says could be fully operational within the next five years, faces formidable technical and geopolitical hurdles. The underwater pipeline would be one of the longest, deepest, and most complex in the world. The most challenging part is the section between Cyprus and Crete, an underwater earthquake zone where the seabed is more than 3,000 meters (two miles) deep.
Geopolitically, Turkey, which has occupied northern Cyprus since 1974, opposes exploiting natural resources from the eastern Mediterranean without Ankara’s permission. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has even deployed a Turkish warship to prevent an Italian energy company from exploring off the coast of Cyprus.
Russia, too, might be opposed to a project that reduces its share of gas to the European market. Israeli supplies, even if relatively small, could reduce the price Europe pays for natural gas and thereby reduce Russian profits and political leverage.
In any event, the project has already bolstered stability in the eastern Mediterranean by improving Israel’s relations with Greece and Cyprus. All three countries have difficult relations with Turkey—which aspires to become the regional hegemon—and all three now hold frequent joint military and civil protection exercises.
Israel, Greece, and Cyprus are also promoting a project to install undersea electricity and fiber-optic cables that will link the three countries. The so-called Euro-Asia Interconnector—a 1,520-kilometer (940-mile) undersea electric cable with a 2,000-megawatt capacity—is designed to connect Greek, Cypriot, and Israeli power grids via the world’s longest underwater power cable. The project aims to build gas-driven electric power plants in Israel and Cyprus to export electricity to Europe.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has hailed the growing ties between the three countries as building “an alliance for good” through joint trade, tourism, and health endeavors. “We are building a great alliance, an alliance for good among our three democracies,” he said. “It is almost inconceivable that our countries did not have this warm, intimate, and direct contact in the past.”
Energy Minister Steinitz concluded, “The agreement that we have drawn up will enable Israel to become an energy supplier to Europe, and that has both economic and political importance. This will be the first time ever that Israel has joined with the EU on any major infrastructure project.”