Although with the pace of world events it seems like five years ago, one month ago this week President Joe Biden made a historic trip to Europe. He stood shoulder to shoulder with the leaders of allied democracies. His important message resonated across the globe.
In addition to other important topics, Biden spent considerable time and was quite specific about European energy dynamics. For example, while meeting with European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, he pledged an additional 15 billion cubic meters of American liquified natural gas (LNG) for Europe this year.
At the European Council meeting last month, participants (all well aware of the household budgets of their voters) focused on curtailing high energy prices. They actively debated suspending Russian gas and oil imports.
What they did agree on was speedily refilling all gas storage facilities across the European Union. They also announced that by the end of May they will have a comprehensive and ambitious energy crisis response plan.
American exports of (LNG) are an important “tool in the toolbox”, but will not fully solve Europe’s energy conundrum in the coming years.
While not nearly as visible as President Biden’s trip, over the last month, other consequential developments have happened. With proper attention from Washington, they can buttress President Biden’s LNG pledge.
Throughout this past month, a common theme, has emerged – the future development of Israeli offshore natural gas.
The Leviathan field already supplies Israel, Jordan and Egypt. Its owners – Chevron and Israeli firms NewMed Energy and Ratio Oil – have announced plans to increase production from 12 to 21 billion cubic meters annually.
Israeli leadership is fully aware of just how critical the next year is for European allies. Planning for a stable and secure Europe weaned off of Russian energy supplies is already beginning and Israel plays an important role.
Energy Minister Karin Elharar told Maariv, “Israel is facing an opportunity to become a major player in the global energy economy. I recently instructed the ministry to examine the possibility of exporting natural gas to Europe following a request I received from the European Union.”
Also this month, Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs Victoria Nuland spent considerable time in Greece, Cyprus and Turkiye.
She made clear that the 6 Billion Euro proposed EastMed pipeline to connect Israel with Cyprus, Greece and Italy would not be supported by the United States.
At the same time, she opened the door to the long-stalled concept of a 525-kilometer subsea pipeline from Israel’s Leviathan field to already existing onshore energy infrastructure in Ceyhan, Turkiye. The proposed 1.5 Billion Euro cost – while considerable – would be significantly less and economically viable.
Turkiye consumes about 50 billion cubic meters of natural gas a year. Nearly all is imported through on shore pipelines from Russia, Iran and Azerbaijan.
The historic visit of Israeli President Herzog to Ankara and Istanbul last month reopened the door for Undersecretary Nuland’s blunt talk about the realities of regional energy geopolitics.
As relations with Ankara soured, Israel has cultivated extraordinary relations with Athens and Nicosia. Rightfully so, these have received considerable attention from the United States Congress as well as Jewish American organizations.
What has received considerably less attention are the deep bonds that Israeli government, military, business and academic leaders have fostered throughout the Western Balkans.
True European energy security means that countries large and small are comfortable with plans made in Brussels and articulated by larger countries. The newest member of the European Union – Croatia – as well as those aspiring nations who are NATO members – Albania, Montenegro and North Macedonia – would benefit from Israeli natural gas routed through Turkiye.
The Ioanian Adriatic Pipeline is a proposed pipeline that would run from Fier, Albania through Montenegro ending in Split, Croatia. When constructed, it will be a major diversification of supplies to what is often called the “soft underbelly of Europe”.
Croatia has recently utilized 3.5 Million Euro to prepare construction. Montenegro and Bosnia – not EU members – have already received 4.2 Million Euro from Brussels.
Israel and Turkiye could use the economic ties created by this pipeline to end decades of a touchy relationship. The pipeline could also provide impetus for economic growth and energy security for Cyprus, which has gas to add to the mix. Along with other Southeast European neighbors, Greece would also have the potential to gain a diverse source of gas through connectors from Turkiye.
Economics, energy security and timing make this an excellent opportunity for multiple nations. Washington and Brussels should work closely to support this link among formerly very strained partners to the benefit of Israelis, Turks and many others.