Massive capital flows to Israel and its increased strategic importance in Europe’s scramble for independence from Russian fossil fuels will result in a new geopolitical balance in the Middle Eastwrites Joseph Dana.
Joseph Dana is the former editor of Exponential View, a weekly newsletter about technology and its impact on society. He was also the editor of emerge85, a lab exploring change in emerging markets and its global impact.
In its quest to secure new energy supplies, Europe is poised to transform the Middle East’s longest conflict. The war in Ukraine and the decoupling of Europe’s dependence on Russian natural gas have led member states of the European Union to frantically seek new sources of energy.
The recent news that Germany has long been pulling dormant coal-fired power plants is a significant setback after years of positive growth in the green energy sector. Coal will alleviate some energy concerns, but it cannot replace Europe’s natural gas needs.
The continent is seeking to revive Israeli imports of natural gas, and this subsequent financial windfall for Israel could forever transform its relationship with the Palestinians.
More than ten years ago, Israel discovered several important natural gas fields in the eastern Mediterranean. Since then, the gas fields have been the source of ongoing geopolitical controversy and intrigue.
Turkey was the first country to show serious interest in Israeli natural gas. Despite Ankara’s wordy rhetoric about Israel’s treatment of Palestinians, Turkey wanted to become a key conduit for Israeli gas to Europe in its quest to reshape itself as a hub for hydrocarbons.
The Turkish-Israeli deal required a complex pipeline that would have had to navigate Greek, Cypriot and possibly Lebanese waters. At the end of 2018, the Turkish gas pipeline project collapsed and was quickly replaced by a new $7 billion EastMed project that would link Israel’s offshore fields to Greece via Cyprus and Crete.
As I wrote in 2019the pipeline was supposed to deliver 10 billion cubic meters of gas per year to energy-hungry EU markets, “which will bring billions of dollars to Israel, Greece and Cyprus while offering lower gas costs to northern customers who have been dependent on Russia and other Middle Eastern countries until now.
United States ended its support of the EastMed gas pipeline in January, but the essential elements of the agreement seem to form the basis of a new agreement between Europe, Israel and Egypt.
The Ukrainian conflict has accelerated these efforts to find a solution. Last week, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen says that the EU was preparing two “big” energy infrastructure projects to increase energy links with Israel.
The projects include a gas and hydrogen pipeline in the eastern Mediterranean and an undersea power cable linking Israel to Cyprus and Greece.
The announcement came amid a flurry of activity, including a visit by Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi to Israel for energy talks with his Israeli counterpart and a historic memorandum of understanding between Israel, Egypt and Europe.
The deal will see Israel export natural gas to Egypt, where it will be liquefied and sent to Europe. The memorandum of understanding paves the way for the first Israeli gas exports to the EU.
There are still several significant challenges in the Eastern Mediterranean natural gas landscape. The Karish gas field between Israel and Lebanon continues to be a hot spot.
Israel says the field is in its UN-designated exclusive economic zone, but Lebanon says the area is disputed. US-mediated talks between Israel and Lebanon failed to reach a settlement as militant group Hezbollah said this month that it would “act” if Israel started drilling in the disputed area before a deal was reached.
Beyond the question of territorial disputes, the imminent arrival of Israeli natural gas in Europe will rekindle greater concerns about the EU’s relations with Israel.
The EU is Israel’s most important trading partner, and activists supporting the Palestinian boycott of Israeli businesses see Europe as a critical battleground.
Over the past decade, boycott activists have successfully pressured European companies to end their business relationships with Israel. For example, the French company Systra withdrew from the Jerusalem light rail project, while the British security company G4S ended its activities in Israel.
Such victories are meaningless in the face of a massive natural gas deal that will see Israel’s fortunes soar. Will there be a major reaction to the slew of new Israeli natural gas deals from European civil society?
With so much attention focused on Russia’s actions in Ukraine and the subsequent end of Russian natural gas supplies, it is unclear whether there will be any further discussion about what Israeli natural gas means for Europe’s commitment to human rights.
Israel is on the verge of a financial windfall unprecedented in its brief history. This injection of capital will radically transform its relationship with the international community in the face of the ongoing occupation of Palestinian land.
With recent normalization agreements in the Arab world, Israel is showing the world that it can maintain its brutal rule over the Palestinians while winning new allies and enriching itself with its abundant natural gas reserves.
The immediate effect will be to maintain the status quo and expand Israel’s settlement project in the West Bank. The long-term impact of these developments, at least from the Palestinian perspective, is anything but promising.
This article was first published with Syndication Bureau, an opinion and analysis syndication service focused on the Middle East, providing its subscribers with insights from writers who have deep expertise in the region. .