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Israel-Greece-Cyprus energy deal ‘top priority’ this year

The three allies plan to link their electrical grids and cooperate on natural gas.

Israeli Energy Minister Eli Cohen (left) and his Cypriot counterpart George Papanastasiou at the Reading Power Station in Tel Aviv, March 27, 2024. Photo: Courtesy.
Israeli Energy Minister Eli Cohen (left) and his Cypriot counterpart George Papanastasiou at the Reading Power Station in Tel Aviv, March 27, 2024. Photo: Courtesy.

Finalizing a major energy deal that includes connecting the power grids of Israel, Greece and Cyprus and a possible future regional natural gas pipeline linking the eastern Mediterranean allies is a “top priority” for 2024, the Israeli and Cypriot energy ministers said on Wednesday.

The long-awaited accord, which was stalled by the nearly six-month-old war with Hamas in Gaza, will not include Turkey. Ankara has reemerged as one of Israel’s bitterest critics in the wake of the Israeli military campaign triggered by the Oct. 7 terrorist invasion.

The expected agreement comes amid burgeoning relations with both Cyprus and Greece, which have maintained support for Israel throughout the war, and close ties in a variety of fields including energy, defense, tourism, high-tech and cybersecurity.

“Cyprus is a regional ally, and cooperation in the field of energy holds great potential opportunities for both countries,” Israeli Energy Minister Eli Cohen said Wednesday as he hosted his Cypriot counterpart to finalize the accord. 

Cypriot Minister of Energy, Commerce and Industry George Papanastasiou said, “Cyprus and Israel share a vision for the eastern Mediterranean with the countries looking at energy as a sector that can facilitate peace, stability and prosperity in the region.”

Electricity and gas projects

The much-discussed deal to link the three countries’ electrical grids, referred to as an “energy highway,” is to be carried out via the world’s longest and deepest underwater electricity cable, crossing the Mediterranean seabed and bridging Asia and Europe.

A subsequent accord is also expected on cooperation on offshore natural gas, one that could establish an energy corridor to Europe and beyond, including Arab countries in the region.

Among the options being considered are a gas pipeline between the three countries, known as the Eastern Mediterranean pipeline or simply EastMed; a liquefaction plant in Cyprus; a floating liquefaction plant in Israeli waters; or, pending the geostrategic situation with Ankara, a natural gas pipeline to Turkey that could pass through Cyprus as well and which would be connected to Azerbaijani gas fields.

Eastern Med on the map

The international energy venture would put the eastern Mediterranean on the map as a key energy provider to Europe, as the war in Ukraine and sanctions on Russia fuel a global energy crisis that hit the European Union hard, spotlighting the continent’s dependence on foreign energy.

“Connecting the electricity cable from Israel to Europe through Cyprus strengthens Israel’s position in the region, has a valuable contribution to Israel’s energy independence, and addresses the European need to diversify energy sources in the midst of the energy crisis,” Cohen said.

After their meeting in Jerusalem, the two ministers toured the Reading Power Station in north Tel Aviv to examine the possibility of establishing the underwater electricity connection at the site.

Message to Ankara

Turkey has long been a regional rival to Greece, while Israel’s tumultuous relations with Ankara have again hit rock bottom in the face of the renewed hostility of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.

“This is a mutually beneficial deal that will allow Israel to integrate more renewable energy in its market and sell surplus electricity to Cyprus and Greece,” said Dr. Elai Rettig, an assistant professor at Bar-Ilan University in Ramat Gan. “In the future, it might also be an important part of a super grid connecting the electricity markets of Europe and the Arab Gulf states.”

He noted that the impending deal between the three eastern Mediterranean allies sends a message to Turkey over its increasing hostility to Israel since the Hamas massacre.

“If Turkey wants to take part in the region’s economic development opportunities it must change its approach to Israel,” Rettig said.

Last year, the leaders of Israel, Cyprus and Greece held a trilateral summit in Nicosia and called the ties between their nations an unprecedented strategic partnership. India has also voiced interest in being part of the alliance.

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