Turkey's aim to diversify its energy needs strengthens its resolute stance to secure natural gas resources in the eastern Mediterranean, which may lead to normalization of its relations with Israel, says expert.
'Turkey’s long-term plan is to diversify from Iranian and Russian gas exports, where Turkey buys three quarters of its oil and gas needs from,' Soner Cagaptay, director of Turkish Research Program told The Anadolu Agency at Washington Institute in Istanbul.
'Diversification will be a serious strategy for Turkey, which is adamant about buying natural gas from the eastern Mediterranean,' he said.
Out of Turkey's total gas consumption of 45 billion cubic meters in 2014, it imported almost 30 billion cubic meters of natural gas from Russia and Iran combined, according to figures from the Turkish Petroleum Pipeline Corporation, BOTAS.
'Gas deposits in the eastern Mediterranean are significant for the countries in the region, such as Israel, Cyprus and Turkey. For Israel, this is surplus gas, it’s more than they need so they will sell some of it,' he said.
The Leviathan gas field, off the coast of Israel in the eastern Mediterranean, is estimated to have 510 billion cubic meters of natural gas reserves, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration data.
Cagaptay stressed that a Turkish-Israeli gas deal may precipitate normalization in Turkish-Israeli relations, adding, 'I think one of the reasons why Turkey has been serious about normalizing ties with Israel is that there is an energy component involved.'
Despite the long-term strategic alignment between Turkey and Israel regarding military and political cooperation in the Middle East during the 1990s, the relationship between the two countries has deteriorated from the mid-2000s onwards.
'Israelis are still hoping that the relationship with Turkey can be politically recovered. They are not yet committed to exploring the eastern Mediterranean gas fields, and they haven’t signed nor ratified anything yet,' Cagaptay said.
'Israel wants to sell gas to Turkey because they realize that economic ties, which have remained strong between the two countries, can be built on further with a gas component. This can act as a shock absorber for Turkish-Israeli relations in the future,' he added.
While Turkish imports from Israel rose from $1 billion to $2.4 billion between 2009 and 2013, Turkish exports to Israel also increased from $1.5 billion to $2.6 billion during the same period, according to the Turkish Statistical Institute, TUIK.
One route to deliver Israeli natural gas to Europe is via Turkey, the other option is to export gas through southern Cyprus to Greece.
Cagaptay underlined that since Turkey already has an existing natural gas grid, the infrastructure needed to export Israeli gas to Turkey and further to Europe, would be minimal, while the Cyprus route would be costly.
'A pipeline project from Israel via Cyprus to Greece, or a liquefied natural gas terminal on Cyprus would increase the cost of this project so much that it almost does not become profitable for Israel,' said Cagaptay, adding that it is profitable for Israel to sell the gas through Turkey since the investment infrastructure needed will be minimal.
Cagaptay stated that since most of the Arab countries in the region either do not need natural gas or don’t have the money to buy gas, Turkey and Greece are the only other options in the vicinity.
'Greece is going through economic turmoil and is not in a position to make a long-term commitment to buy substantial amounts of gas. So, this only leaves Turkey as the only potential regional buyer,' he added.
- Cyprus issues
The dispute between the Turkish and Greek Cypriot sides on sharing oil and gas resources off the coast of Cyprus is an additional layer on the strained relationship between the two.
The island of Cyprus was divided into northern Turkish and southern Greek territories, when a Greek-Cypriot coup in 1974 to join the island to Greece was responded to by a Turkish peace mission.
The Greek Cypriot administration put peace talks on hold in early October after Turkey sent a ship to monitor an oil-and-gas exploration mission off the coast of Cyprus.
'Many people think, especially in Washington, that the exploration of gas fields together would be a way for the Turkish and Greek Cypriots to cooperate and eventually bring together the unification of the island,' said Cagaptay.
State officials from the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus have already repeated their firm stand on many occasions that the resources of the island of Cyprus belong to both communities and have reiterated that the Turkish Cypriots will not give up their rights on these resources.
Turkey's Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu stated on Monday that oil and gas exploration off the Cyprus coast would only be possible if talks between Turkish Cypriots and the Greek Cypriot side resume solving the dispute.
The Aphrodite gas field, off the coast of southern Cyprus in eastern Mediterranean, is estimated to have 200 billion cubic meters of natural gas, (almost four times Turkey's annual consumption in 2014), according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration data.
By Ovunc Kutlu