The US and Israel often find themselves on oddly similar trajectories.
Both countries enjoy a healthy economy, a fractious political system, leaders facing legal challenges, a polarized electorate, and dominant security positions in their respective parts of the world. There is a general sense of well-being in both countries, but inside the borders of each, there is great dissatisfaction among a sizable segment of voters.
But both countries are about to undergo revolutionary change that will alter the geopolitical situations in which they have historically found themselves.
Nearly simultaneously, the US and Israel are becoming energy independent, no longer subject to the terror or blackmailing of oil-rich Gulf States that, at another point in time could paralyze their economies. Perhaps more importantly, both will be able to become net exporters of energy, enabling the countries to structure critical economic alliances which also serve their interests politically. All of this represents a direct adrenaline shot in to their economies, growing jobs and reducing energy costs for their percolating economies.
Israel’s aptly named Leviathan field opened for production on December 31, 2019. In conjunction with the Tamir field, which is already online, conservative estimates suggest that Leviathan could supply all of Israel’s domestic energy needs for 40 years.
Several days later, the governments of Israel, Cyprus and Greece announced an agreement to construct the East Med pipeline which will stretch nearly 1,200 miles from the Cypriot and Israeli gas fields to Italy and onward to Greece. The $6.7 billion project is to be funded by DEPA, Greece’s public gas company, and Italy’s Edison. Natural gas leases under development in Cyprus are less than 4 miles from Israeli gas fields.
Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis commented, “Today we did not simply sign a beneficial agreement. We sealed our resolve for a strategic connection between our countries in a region that now more than ever needs growth and security.”
It is important to note that all of this takes place with Turkey looming prominently in the background. Turkey has been “illegally drilling” in Cypriot offshore territory and Greece has been advocating economic sanctions by the EU for this economic invasion.
More provocatively, Turkey’s Recep Erdogan met with Vladimir Putin last week and inaugurated the TurkStream pipeline which will deliver Russian gas to Turkey and Europe via the Black Sea. This will allow Russia to increase gas supplies to Europe without having to rely on the Ukraine.
In addition, and to the strenuous objections of the Greeks, Turkey has injected itself into the Libyan civil war by sending troops to support the UN-backed Tripoli government. The Russians are said to have sent 2,500 mercenaries in support of opposition strongman Khalifa Haftar. At their meeting Erdogan and Putin called for a cease fire between the two sides as relations between Turkey and Russia continue to warm.
Interestingly, Turkey and Libya recently completed a maritime agreement which creates a corridor between the two countries that bisects Cypriot sea boundaries. Naturally, this has greatly angered the Greeks and Cypriots who believe this is a heavy-handed tactic which forces them to bring Turkey into the East Med partnership. Kaan Devecioglu, a research fellow at the Association of Researchers on Africa, says that Libya has been a crucial historical and geographic player in Turkish foreign policy. “It should not be forgotten that the Ottoman Empire’s collapse started with losing its impact in the Eastern Mediterranean.”
Turkey, of course, elected to purchase S-400 anti-aircraft systems from Russia, against objections from the US and NATO, and lost the ability to continue to participate in F-35 purchases and development. Russia is now building Erdogan’s inaugural nuclear reactor. His enmity toward Israel is unapologetic and aggressive.
But the EastMed pipeline and alliance have several important power bases supporting them. The EU has pledged $40 million to the pipeline for research and technical planning, and has determined that Turkey’s maritime claims are legally invalid. American Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was in attendance when the tripartite agreement to launch the pipeline was signed.
It has always seemed obvious that the real route to any tranquility in the Middle East will be based on economic development. While more radical elements among the populations of Egypt and Jordan seethe about the peace agreements those countries signed with Israel, there are positive signs of improvements between the governments based on economic supply and demand. One can only hope that glimmers of opportunity within the Sunni sphere may also develop as Israel’s international business prowess can no longer be ignored by any but the most strident anti-Zionist zealots.
Aside from the tangible domestic benefits of energy independence, there is a significant intangible side, too. Israel and the US now possess another layer of national self-confidence. In a world where 35% of the world’s proven oil reserves are in the hands of Venezuela and Saudi Arabia, neither Israel nor the US want to be subjected to domestic pressures and fluctuations in those countries or from OPEC, do not want their energy flows potentially interrupted by skirmishes through the Straits of Hormuz, and want to be able to use the power that comes with being an energy exporter on an Israel First and America First foreign policy.
None of this could even be conceived – let alone become the new reality – for these countries, without the leverage provided by the exploitation of these natural resources.