Some of the most important news is recent Israeli history was made last week – yet very few people heard it. No, that critical news wasn’t the success of Israel’s vaccination program or the loosening of Covid restrictions when so much of the world is returning to lockdown. Instead, it was the announcement that Cyprus, Greece and Israel, who last year signed the East Med natural gas pipeline deal, signed a Memorandum of Understanding to accelerate work on a 2,000 megawatt undersea electric cable called the EuroAsia Interconnector, adding another element to the Eastern Mediterranean Energy Corridor.
This project, which will connect Israel’s energy grid with that of the EU, is considered a “key project of public interest” by the EU Executive Committee. It will lay the world’s largest undersea power cable linking the grids of Cyprus, Israel and Greece and stretching 1,200 kilometers (745 miles).
Expected to become operational in 2025, the project expands on technology obtained through natural gas drilling. In the words of Israeli Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz, this pipeline allows Israel to “receive electricity backing from the power grids of the European continent in times of emergency and… significantly increase reliance on solar power generation.”
The energy deals increase the pace within which Israel, Greece and Cyprus can expand their solar power generation (by providing much needed backup when the sun doesn’t shine), cutting carbon emissions and furthering each country’s commitments under the Paris Climate Accords. Further, the deals increase the chances of peace throughout the region as Israel continues to diversify its energy sources and becomes a net exporter of energy. This limits if not negates any attempted use of a threatened oil or natural gas boycott to pressure Israel in ways disadvantageous to it politically or militarily.
Another byproduct of the undersea natural gas and electricity pipelines is the increase of isolation for Turkey. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who has taken historically secular Turkey down a fundamentalist Islamist path and nearly destroyed relations with Israel, now finds himself being the odd man out as his neighbors progress without him. https://www.forbes.com/sites/danielmarkind/2020/10/22/will-natural-gas-isolate-turkey-and-integrate-israel-in-the-eastern-mediterranean/. In 2020 Erdogan signed a bizarre agreement with Libya to claim an exclusive economic zone throughout the Eastern Mediterranean, apparently trying to claim for himself the rights to the massive undersea natural gas fields that have been discovered and are on the verge of being developed. https://www.forbes.com/sites/danielmarkind/2020/02/07/will-natural-gas-tensions-in-the-eastern-mediterranean-lead-to-armed-conflict/.
Recently Erdogan changed his tune. In December he announced that he wished to improve bilateral relations with Israel. https://www.timesofisrael.com/after-years-of-acrimony-turkeys-erdogan-says-hed-like-better-ties-with-israel/. Belatedly, Erdogan appears to realize that he has bet on the wrong horse. Eternally mercurial however, his reaction remains the true wild card in the energy and electricity development projects that contain such promise to so many in the Eastern Mediterranean.
By any rational standard, these developments are to be celebrated. There always will be people on the extreme left who claim that any use of fossil fuels will destroy the planet and must be banned. Most Israelis, however, appreciate the benefits the discovery of the Leviathan and Tamar natural gas fields have brought the nation as well as the environmental promise it delivers through the completion of projects like the EuroAsia Interconnector.
In the short run then, the Covid news in Israel will dominate and remains very hopeful. In the long term, it is the pipeline story that may prove more important. Few could have predicted even 20 years ago that Israel is on the verge of true energy self-sufficiency while simultaneously solidifying relations with the EU and showing the way to improve the world’s environment. That certainly is reason to celebrate.