ATHENS (AFP) – Greece, Cyprus and Israel signed an agreement yesterday for a huge pipeline project designed to ship gas from the eastern Mediterranean to Europe.
The move comes amid tensions with Turkey over its own activities in the area and a contentious maritime deal with Libya expanding Ankara’s claims over a large gas-rich area of the sea.
The 2,000-kilometre EastMed pipeline will be able to transfer between nine and 12 billion cubic metres a year from offshore gas reserves between Israel and Cyprus to Greece, and then on to Italy and other southeastern European countries.
The discovery of hydrocarbon reserves in the eastern Mediterranean has sparked a scramble for the energy riches and a row between Cyprus and Turkey. Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades signed the deal at 1630GMT.
Turkey already faces European Union (EU) sanctions over ships searching for oil and gas off Cyprus, whose government in Nicosia is not recognised by Ankara. The EastMed project is expected to make Cyprus, Greece and Israel key links in Europe’s energy supply chain. It aims to stymie Turkey’s effort to extend its control to the eastern Mediterranean.
Greece responded angrily to the Turkey-Libya deal struck in November, expelling the Libyan ambassador and urging the United Nations (UN) to condemn it. Part of the agreement sets a maritime boundary between the two countries, which Greece said fails to take into account the island of Crete.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said last November he envisaged joint energy exploration activities with Libya in the eastern Mediterranean.
His government insists the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus – recognised only by Ankara – has the right to explore around the entire island.
The EastMed alliance “is of enormous importance to the state of Israel’s energy future and its development into an energy power and also from the point of view of stability in the region,” Netanyahu said in a statement issued as he left Israel for Greece yesterday.
Greek Energy Minister Kostis Hatzidakis called it “a project of peace and cooperation” despite “Turkish threats”.
Avinoam Idan, a former Israeli government security official who is now a geostrategy expert at Haifa University, said of the deal, “It’s important for Israel, it’s important for the transit countries, Greece and Cyprus, and of course Europe”.
As the new source of energy would not compete with Russian supplies to the EU, “there is no reason to see it as a big change in the geopolitical dynamic in Europe’s energy market,” he told AFP.
The Greek economic daily Kathimerini said on Wednesday Athens and Nicosia had been in a hurry to finalise EastMed “to counter any attempt by the Turkish neighbour to stop the project”.
The cost of the installation from the eastern Mediterranean to Italy is estimated at EUR6 billion (USD6.7 billion).