East Med energy could be key to improving Turkey-Israel relations
Turkey is the closest and most logical market for Israel's natural gas, says expert
The change of administration in Israel has ushered in an opportunity to improve energy relations between Turkey and Israel, according to Oguzhan Akyener, the president of Turkey’s Energy Strategy & Political Research Center (TESPAM) on Tuesday.
Akyener told Anadolu Agency that there is more hope of developing energy relations between Turkey and Israel now, having previously been put on hold with the former Israeli administration.
"For this, the administration in Israel had to change and more reasonable and fair steps had to be taken. Nothing is clear yet, but the breezes of such a climate have begun. This will be further strengthened with the energy card," he said.
Akyener said the development of the next phase of Israel’s giant Leviathan oil and gas field is dependent on finding a market that is lucrative and conducive to the cost of its development.
Such a market can be found in Turkey, Akyener said, as it is the closest geographically and would be the most cost-effective, offering transfer possibilities to Europe.
Akyener said he was doubtful that the East Med 1,900 kilometer-long (1,180 miles) natural gas pipeline to bring gas from Israel to Europe would be realized, arguing that it is not economically viable.
He explained that the East Med project is not competent enough technically, legally, security-wise, or economically, as all of the related gas resources need to be transported via pipeline because the gas is from dry fields, which cannot be converted to LNG.
"Maybe Turkey will buy all the gas. We've been saying for years that the East Med pipeline project won't be realized. The EU was also aware of this," he said.
The maritime conflict between Lebanon and Israel in the region, in which the US is getting involved to find a resolution, is making matters worse by threatening energy security.
Akyener suggested that Turkey’s presence at the table could contribute to the resolution of problems in the region.
"A pipeline from Israel to Lebanon and from there to the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus [TRNC] and Turkey is economically viable. As long as the Greek Cypriot Administration agrees to a model in which the TRNC [Turkish Republic of North Cyprus] will be recognized, new steps can be taken there as well. Such opportunities can pave the way for both the welfare of the people of the region and in bringing peace to the region," Akyener said.
Greece, Israel, and the Greek Cypriot Administration in January last year signed an Eastern Mediterranean (EastMed) 1,900 kilometer- natural gas pipeline project, planned to run from Israel to Southern Cyprus, Crete, Greece, and ultimately to Italy.
However, the project is not problem-free, as it is very costly and the gas supplies that will cover these costs have not yet been forthcoming.
Many experts concur that the estimated natural gas transfer cost would be three times cheaper if the pipeline passes through Turkey.
Although Ankara and Jerusalem expressed their willingness to negotiate on such gas transfer via Turkey, talks never got off the ground.
Libya maritime deal and East Med Gas Forum
Experts agree that there are risks with forming an alliance in the Eastern Mediterranean without Turkey’s participation, as is the case with the East Med Gas Forum. The forum includes Greece, Israel, the Southern Cyprus Administration, Egypt, Italy, Jordan, and Palestine, notably without Turkey, with a special emphasis on the US’s geopolitical approach to the region.
Hosted by Egypt, the Eastern Med Gas Forum was founded on Jan. 16, 2019, with the participation of the energy ministers of Greece, Cyprus, Israel, Egypt, Italy and Jordan.
Turkey has consistently contested the Greek Cypriot Administration’s unilateral drilling in the Eastern Mediterranean, asserting that the TRNC also has rights to the resources in the area.
Athens and the Greek Cypriots have opposed any move that Turkey has made in its drilling and exploratory campaigns in the East Med, and have threatened to arrest the crews of any Turkish drillship while enlisting EU leaders to join in on their criticism.
On Nov. 27 last year, Ankara and Libya’s UN-recognized Government of National Accord (GNA) signed two separate pacts, one that encompasses military cooperation and the other maritime boundaries of the two countries in the Eastern Mediterranean.
The maritime pact, effective from Dec. 8, 2020, asserted Turkey's rights in the Eastern Mediterranean in the face of unilateral drilling by the Greek Cypriot Administration.
The Cyprus problem has remained unresolved for decades despite a series of efforts by the United Nations, while recent tensions in the Eastern Mediterranean have further complicated the problem.
The island has been divided into a Turkish Cypriot government in the north and Greek Cypriot Administration in the south since a 1974 military coup aimed at Cyprus’ annexation by Greece.
Turkey’s military intervention as a guarantor power in 1974 had stopped the years-long persecution and violence against Turkish Cypriots by ultra-nationalist Greek Cypriots.
Phone call between presidents of Israel and Turkey
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan spoke by phone on Monday with his newly inaugurated Israeli counterpart, Isaac Herzog, to discuss relations between the two countries as well as regional issues.
The outcome of the exchange was positive with Erdogan declaring the large bilateral cooperation potential, particularly in energy, tourism and technology.
This call follows on from positive sentiments expressed by Israel's former Energy Minister, Yuval Steinitz, who on March 2021 said that Tel Aviv was ready to cooperate with Turkey on natural gas in the Eastern Mediterranean.
Previously, Israel held talks on gas exports to Turkey, which as yet have not produced any results.
Turkey's Energy and Natural Resources Minister Fatih Donmez was hopeful of a new era in relations with the new Israeli administration in a speech late Monday when he gave the new government a vote of confidence.
"Such government changes are important opportunities for the restoration of relations that have deteriorated in the past. We would like to come together with the riparian countries of the Eastern Mediterranean at a conference and discuss the issues on which we agree or disagree,” he said.
Such a move is backed by Erdogan, who Donmez said had advised that it would be in the interest of all countries to come to the table for discussions to solve any outstanding problems.
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