Netanyahu in Athens to Ink Trilateral Gas Deal Amid Tensions With Turkey

The ambitious project to export Israeli and Cypriot gas to Europe has recently been challenged by the signing of a Turkey-Libya maritime deal

Benjamin Netanyahu and Kyriakos Mitsotakis meet in Athens, Greece, January 2, 2019.
Haim Zach/GPO

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is visiting Athens on Thursday in order to formally move ahead with the construction of the EastMed pipeline that will bring Israeli and Cypriot natural gas to the European market via Greece.

The trilateral summit is being held amid growing tensions with Turkey, after it signed an agreement last month with Libya delineating an exclusive economic zone where the pipeline is slated to run.

Before taking off, Netanyahu said he was headed for “a very important” meeting with the leaders of Greece and Cyprus. “We’ve formed a Mediterranean alliance with massive importance for Israel’s energy future … and for regional stability.”

Accompanying Netanyahu to Athens is Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz. The two are set to meet Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades after a meeting with Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis. Netanyahu was also slated to meet with Greek President Prokopis Pavlopoulos and Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias.

Israel and Cyprus have large natural gas reserves in their territorial waters and a shared interest in marketing them to Europe via Greece.

After years of putting out feelers, last year Israel signed a memorandum of understanding to establish the export infrastructure. The cost of the ambitious project is estimated at tens of billions of shekels. Netanyahu, Anastasiades and Greek opposition leader Alexis Tsipras also discussed the partnership at the previous summit in 2016.

The upgrading of ties between Israel and Greece is motivated mainly by security and economic issues, first and foremost the natural gas reserves. The two countries conduct joint military drills in which, according to foreign sources, Arab armies also sometimes take part. Greece has also softened its stance on the Palestinian issue in international forums.

Israel and Cyprus have numerous joint regional interests, including the political instability in Lebanon and Syria and complex ties with Turkey. Both Israel and Cyprus have good relations with Egypt, to which they also intend to export natural gas.