Energy diplomacy opens new chapter of independence for Greece

As the Biden administration rejoins and commits to upholding the terms of the Paris Climate Agreement, Congress should follow through on the commitments of the Eastern Mediterranean Security and Energy Partnership Act signed into law in December.

Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis visits at the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial museum in Jerusalem, on June 17, 2020. Photo by Yonatan Sindel/Flash90
Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis visits at the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial museum in Jerusalem, on June 17, 2020. Photo by Yonatan Sindel/Flash90
Julie Fishman Rayman

Modern Greece is marking its bicentennial, celebrating the nation’s emergence from 400 years of rule under the Ottoman Empire. While ancient Greek culture pioneered democracy, philosophy, geometry and more, modern Greece kick-started a more recent seismic shift: normalization with the State of Israel.

Energy ministers from Greece, Cyprus and Israel have agreed to speed up work on the Euro-Asia Interconnector, a 2,000-megawatt underwater cable that connects the three countries to European and Asian power grids and cements their standing as energy exporters. Stretching 2,700 meters underneath the Mediterranean Sea, the high-voltage highway offers more independence for Greece and its allies.

Accelerating the interconnector is only one piece of the energy diplomacy that offers stability to the region. For the last decade, Greece and its partners have forged a new model of statecraft focused on cooperation and investments in technology—a prototype for the Abraham Accords that pave the way for normalized relations between Israel and the Arab world.

Numerous bilateral and trilateral agreements between Greece, Israel and Cyprus have yielded strategic military alliances, including shared intelligence, technology and joint drills to bolster security. Energy agreements have lessened their dependence on nefarious regimes.

Since its independence in 1948, Israel’s energy security has been tenuous at best. In 2005, Israel’s diplomatic ties warmed with Egypt, which signed a 15-year agreement to export natural gas to the Jewish state. Israel relied on Egypt for 40 percent of its natural-gas supply. But under the regime of Mohamed Morsi, the stability of that supply faced constant threats. The pipeline carrying gas to Israel through the Sinai Peninsula was regularly sabotaged.

Meanwhile, Cyprus also paid a premium for energy from Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Libya and Saudi Arabia—some of which exploited Greece by offering gas and oil on credit at the height of the country’s economic crisis.

When Greece, Cyprus and Israel discovered their own natural-gas reserves, an angel appeared. For the first time, a major source of natural gas in the region was controlled by Western democracies. They were no longer beholden to regimes that didn’t align with their interests. Now, Israel has inked a deal to export its own gas to Egypt.

Israel’s more secure boundary has long been the Mediterranean Sea. It established formal relations with Greece and Cyprus decades ago, but it’s just within the past decade that the Israel-Greece-Cyprus trilateral relationship has transformed the Eastern Mediterranean into a real political and economic region.

What started as a partnership based on energy has developed into something much broader and strategic. The Interconnector—geared to become the world’s longest and deepest underwater cable—will link Israel’s power grid to the European one, forming another bridge to the West. Seeking to reduce its reliance on Russian energy, the European Union has committed funds to the Interconnector, deeming it a Project of Common Interest (PCI) that will bridge Asia and Europe.

But energy independence is just one bridge built by this diplomacy. As countries move away from oil and coal towards greener sources of energy, natural gas offers a bridge from oil to a more renewable future and green energy infrastructure in accordance with the Paris Climate Agreement. The EuroAsia Interconnector, which can transport energy generated by a variety of sources, will accelerate progress in all three countries towards that goal.

Israel has already pledged to derive a third of its electricity from solar power by 2030 and is pouring profits from natural gas into its electric-car industry. Meanwhile, Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis has declared Greece will be coal-free by the end of his term in 2023.

As the Biden administration rejoins and commits to upholding the terms of the Paris Climate Agreement, Congress should follow through on the commitments of the Eastern Mediterranean Security and Energy Partnership Act signed into law in December. The American Jewish Committee and its partner, the Hellenic American Leadership Council, vigorously advocated for this law. From authorizing the Eastern Mediterranean Energy Center to deepening the security relationships with Greece and Cyprus, and calling out Turkey’s malign influence in the region, the EastMed Act advances key shared energy, climate, security and democracy promotion goals.

The Abraham Accords are creating a new path to peace for Israel in the broader region, but in recognizing those tremendous advancements, the path forged by Greece and Cyprus should not be forgotten. In the turbulent Eastern Mediterranean, these two democracies proved that there is much to gain from deepening and widening their links with Israel. The region, the United States and the world stand to benefit from this strategic alliance.

Julie Fishman Rayman is senior director of policy and Political Affairs for the American Jewish Committee.

The opinions and facts presented in this article are those of the author, and neither JNS nor its partners assume any responsibility for them.
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