Putin Russia in its Place: Israel’s Pipeline Will Foil Moscow

Israeli natural gas pipeline to Europe is set to break the Kremlin’s stranglehold on energy.

Israel and Europe will proceed with a natural gas pipeline that will carry Israeli gas to European customers, after the Israeli government ratified the agreement. Partner countries Greece and Cyprus have already approved the project. The Eastern Mediterranean, or EastMed, pipeline project will allow Israel to become a major energy exporter, while reducing European reliance on Russian energy supplies.

Israeli Minister of Energy Yuval Steinitz hailed the agreement, calling it in a news release, “another historic milestone in our efforts to transform the State of Israel into an exporter of energy – a process which will bring in tens of billions in revenues for the benefit of Israel and its citizens in the coming years.”

The project has been somewhat controversial in recent years, with Italy initially opposing it, but later signing on. Turkey and Libya, which are not part of the project, formed a separate economic agreement that the U.S. opposed, leading to U.S. spending on a regional framework to facilitate cooperation on energy issues between the U.S., Israel, Greece, and Cyprus.

The pipeline is expected to stretch approximately 1,200 miles over land and under water at a cost of roughly $6.8 billion, according to reports. The EastMed pipeline project won’t be the first time Israel will export natural gas. Earlier this year, the energy ministers from Israel and Egypt announced Israeli natural gas exports to Egypt.

IGI Poseidon, a joint venture between Italian and Greek energy companies, is managing and designing the project along with support from Bulgaria, which will get a pipeline spur, according to the organization’s website. IGI Poseidon is conducting underwater surveys to map the best route, as well as economic and commercial feasibility studies.

The European Union is also investing in the project through its Connecting Europe Facility (CEF). Earlier this year the EU included the EastMed project on its list of Projects of Common Interest, signifying the pipeline will have significant benefits for EU member nations.

The pipeline is expected to be completed by 2025, and will run from the Levantine Basin gas field in Israel and the Aphrodite gas field in Cyprus through Crete and Greece, with the main terminus in Italy. It is expected to carry 10 billion cubic meters of gas per year, with a planned increase to 20 billion cubic meters per year, according to IGI Poseidon.

While all countries involved in the announcement are U.S. allies, another U.S. ally is firmly opposed. Complicating U.S. diplomacy in the region, Turkey has expressed serious concerns and made territorial claims that include areas the EastMed pipeline will use. In a move many saw as a way to counter the EastMed pipeline, Turkey signed a memorandum with Libya that would create an exclusive economic zone between the two nations.

(Randam via Wikimedia)

In addition to opposition from the EU, the memorandum drew a rebuke from U.S. Ambassador to Greece Geoffrey Pyatt at the Delphi Economic Forum in Greece in June, who said the memorandum is “inconsistent with the American understanding of international maritime law… .”

“It is unhelpful and provocative in any terms, but most importantly it can take away no right from Greece. Whether this document is posted to the United Nations or not, it does not detract from the rights that Greece possesses still under international maritime law,” Pyatt said.

Energy ministers from Italy, Greece, Cyprus, Jordan and the Palestinian Authority also joined the Egyptian-Israeli meeting earlier this year. It concluded with participants planning future meetings as the East Mediterranean Gas Forum. France has asked to join that organization, while the U.S. has requested permanent observer status.

Both the EastMed pipeline and the East Mediterranean Gas Forum have bipartisan support in the U.S. Congress, which last year passed the Eastern Mediterranean Security and Energy Partnership Act of 2019 in its annual spending bill. The bill created a United States-Eastern Mediterranean Energy Center to facilitate cooperation on energy issues between the U.S., Israel, Greece and Cyprus. President Donald Trump signed the bill into law as part of an overall budget package. Among other provisions, the act requires the Trump administration to provide a written strategy to Congress on enhanced security and energy cooperation with countries in the Eastern Mediterranean, and to provide Congress with a list of malign activities by Russia and other countries in the region.

Russia, which sends natural gas both to Turkey and through Turkey to Europe, has not weighed in on the EastMed pipeline project.

(Edited by Jeff Epstein and Sally Benford.)