The prospect of Israel and Tukey normalizing relations paves the way for profitable cooperation in a wide array of fields, including energy. Israeli President Isaac Herzog’s visit to Turkey in March instantly renewed the discussions regarding the Turkey-Israel gas pipeline project amid a colossal security cataclysm in Europe stemming from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. While Europe is facing unprecedented energy security challenges and desperately looking for alternative and reliable suppliers, the countries are looking to the Turkey-Israeli gas pipeline as Europe’s alternative to Russian energy supplies.
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s earlier statement that “gas cooperation is one of the most important steps we [Turkey and Israel] can take together for bilateral ties” should not come as a surprise. Erdogan also said “he was ready to send top ministers to Israel to revive the pipeline idea that has hung in the air for years.”
Ankara and Tel-Aviv have long discussed the project and had previously reached an agreement. However, the project fell through at the last minute due to Ankara’s deepening disputes with Israel’s then-Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu’s government.
As a result, Netanyahu’s government inked an agreement with Cyprus and Greece in 2020 for a new 1,900 kilometer-long Eastern Mediterranean (EastMed) gas pipeline. The pipeline would carry Israeli natural gas to Europe and have an annual capacity of 10 billion cubic meters at a cost of $7.9 billion. The energy project also aimed to further isolate Turkey in the region. Nevertheless, the Biden administration rescinded its support for the planned EastMed pipeline project in 2021.
Although the main reasons for the US withdrawing its support from the EastMed are still obscure, Erdogan clearly stated that “gas delivery to Europe cannot happen without Turkey.” It seems that Erdogan tried to persuade Israel that Turkey is the only viable route for its gas exports to Europe.
Considering the political nature of the EastMed project, the officials involved in it, and the exclusion of Turkey, it is evident that the new US administration decided not to heighten tensions in a region where relations are already tense.
The US’ disengagement with the EastMed project increased Turkey’s chances of realizing the long-awaited energy project with Israel amid normalization of ties with Tel-Aviv and other regional states. With the US no longer interested in the EastMed project, Turkey’s prospects for its pipeline increase. The gas pipeline project entails building a subsea pipeline from “Turkey to Israel’s largest offshore natural gas field,” known as Leviathan. The natural gas would travel from Turkey to Southern European countries and help the EU diversify energy imports, moving away from its dependency on Russia.
An energy partnership among Turkey and Israel could be a pivotal moment for normalization, which has stagnated due to various political disputes, including the Israeli-Palestine issue. Simultaneously, the new energy project would allow Erdogan to enjoy both economic and political dividends, as well as ease Turkey’s political isolation in the Eastern Mediterranean region.
Nevertheless, several important questions arise regarding the specific aspects of the project, such as the pipeline’s route. According to Israeli Energy Minister Elharrar, specifics have yet to be discussed. Currently, there are two proposed means of exporting gas from Leviathan: one via existing liquified natural gas (LNG) plants based in Egypt and another through a planned transfer of LNG via floating production storage. The initial estimates suggest that a 550 km-long pipeline would cost around $1.5 billion to build, which is cheaper than the almost $8 billion EastMed project. Another challenge to the project stems from the EU’s renewed strategy over the climate crisis that envisages decreasing the consumption of natural gas by 25 percent by 2030. By 2050, the EU hopes to completely eradicate the use of natural gas. In addition to financial challenges, some serious political challenges – such as the EU and Turkey’s strained relations – also need to be addressed.
Moreover, the pipeline’s main route would need to cross the waters of Cyprus (which Turkey does not recognize as a sovereign state) and Syria, with which Ankara ceased diplomatic relations years ago amid civil war and deployed its military contingent in northern Syria. As such, the involvement of Turkey’s state-owned companies in the construction of the pipeline could be a problematic issue.
Turkey’s Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu’s statement that a “potential gas pipeline project between Turkey and Israel is not possible in the short-term” is a tacit admission that Ankara has still not made a final decision regarding the specific aspects of the pipeline project. So far, construction of the Turkey-Israel gas pipeline has yet to commence.
Nevertheless, the ongoing successful rapprochement with Israel may soon give a new impetus to the project.