The European Union seeks in the Middle East an alternative to the “blackmail” of Russian gas | International
The President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, has embarked on a tour of the Middle East to seek alternative sources of supply to Russian gas, on which the Twenty-seven now depend on 40%, and which Brussels intends to eliminate before 2027 as a consequence of the outbreak of the conflict in Ukraine. In the first stage of her journey, which will take her to Cairo on Wednesday, she met this Tuesday in Jerusalem with the head of the Israeli Government, Naftali Bennett, to “explore ways to increase cooperation in the field of energy ”. “The Kremlin has used our dependence on Russian fossil fuels to blackmail us, deliberately cutting off gas supplies to Poland, Bulgaria and Finland and to Dutch and Danish companies in retaliation for supporting Ukraine,” said von der Leyen. “Such behavior only reinforces our desire to free ourselves from Russian dependency,” she emphasized, alluding to the push for various energy interconnection proposals in the eastern Mediterranean. The Commission President announced the signing, on Wednesday, of a trilateral gas agreement between the EU, Israel and Egypt in Cairo.
Energy cooperation clearly marks the visit, which had as a prologue a meeting between the President of the Commission on Monday night, shortly after landing in Tel Aviv, with the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Yair Lapid, a strong man in the vast Israeli government coalition, and with the Minister of Energy, Karine Elharrar. Sources from his ministry quoted by Agence France Presse have assured that both parties have been working for months to sign an agreement to allow the export of Israeli gas to Europe through Egypt. Minister Elharrar, who will participate this week in an international energy convention in Cairo, told the Hebrew press that the crisis in Ukraine “turns Europe into a new market” for gas companies operating in Israel.
Von der Leyen’s visit coincides with the presence in Jerusalem of Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi, whose country has significant interests in natural gas fields in Egypt’s Nile Delta. Italy has aspired to be the gateway to Europe for natural gas from the Middle East through methane tankers, in the short term, and a gas pipeline under the eastern Mediterranean, in the indeterminate future.
In 2020, Israel signed an agreement with Cyprus and Greece for the construction of the EastMed, a gas pipeline of nearly 2,000 kilometers, to transfer 10,000 million cubic meters a year from the Israeli and Cypriot gas reserves, and connect through Greece with the European power distribution networks in Italy. “Europe needs energy as soon as possible and in Israel we have natural gas in our territorial waters,” the Israeli prime minister declared at a press conference with his Italian counterpart, quoted by the Efe news agency.
The discovery of large gas deposits as of 2010 in the eastern Mediterranean, in the waters of Israel, Cyprus, Lebanon and Egypt, represents a paradigm shift of which the Jewish State is for now the main and most advanced beneficiary, with reserves already operations in the Tamar and Leviatán macro-fields, and gas pipelines in operation to Jordan and Egypt. The latter country also has two gas liquefaction plants to allow its transport by sea. Until last year, one of them, located in Damieta, was owned 50% by the Spanish group Naturgy. As it could not be exploited after the revolution that overthrew President Hosni Mubarak in 2011, the Spanish company ended up giving up its joint investment with the Italian ENI after receiving compensation.
The Israeli and Egyptian governments signed a collaboration agreement in November to jointly export gas to Europe, according to the newspaper Jerusalem Post. Since last April, conversations between technicians from the European Commission and the Israeli Ministry of Energy have been preparing the visit that Von der Leyen is now making. Israeli experts see it difficult for exports to start before 2024, as Israeli companies still have to expand the volume of supply to plants located on the Egyptian coast. For this, they plan to double production in their deposits.
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Turkey, meanwhile, has carried out an active policy of rapprochement with Israel after more than 12 years of semi-frozen relations, with the aim of offering itself as a gateway for gas to Europe. Official visits by senior officials from both countries have taken place throughout this year. Greece and Cyprus, which maintain marked differences with Ankara, do not support the Turkish alternative.
Brussels aid to Palestine unblocked
Another regional dispute in recent days has pitted Lebanon against Israel over the exploitation of an Israeli gas extraction platform located near the maritime divide between the two countries, and which the Beirut government considers to be in waters under its control. The mediation of a US envoy seems to have defused the crisis for now, waiting for both parties to resume indirect talks to definitively define the gas exploitation areas.
The President of the Commission has also taken advantage of the regional tour to announce in Ramala (West Bank), administrative headquarters of the Palestinian Authority near Jerusalem, the release of more than 200 million EU aid that had been withheld since last year by the veto of the Commissioner for Neighborhood and Enlargement, the Hungarian Oliver Várhely. They had been frozen as a pressure measure to force the Palestinian authorities to modify the textbooks used by schoolchildren as they understood that they included anti-Semitic content. The shortage of resources in the coffers of the Palestinian Authority, which has the EU as its main donor, has compromised the survival of hundreds of cancer patients due to the lack of adequate medication to treat them in the reference cancer center in East Jerusalem, the Augusta Victoria Hospital, as it does not have European funding.
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