What happened: The East Mediterranean Gas Forum (EMGF) that first met in January 2019, is set to upgrade to an international organisation. The seven members – Cyprus, Egypt, Greece, Israel, Italy, Jordan and the Palestine Authority – will hold a ministerial meeting today in Cairo.
- Today’s discussions will be on the political level, after technical discussions yesterday
- Yesterday morning also marked the start of Israeli gas exports to Egypt, with a rare joint statement from the respective energy ministers hailing the “important development that will serve the economic interests of both sides.”
- Turkey is a notable absentee from the EMGF and risks being isolated in the Eastern Mediterranean energy market. But Turkey has a maritime border deal with the Government of National Accord (GNA) in Tripoli, Libya, which Ankara believes could be utilised to frustrate plans by Cyprus, Egypt, Greece and Israel to export gas to Europe if the GNA can be defended.
- The Guardian reported yesterday that two thousand Syrian fighters have travelled from Turkey or will arrive imminently in the country to prop up the Government of National Accord against Khalifa Haftar’s Libyan National Army, which is loyal to the Tobruk based House of Representatives.
Context: The Eastern Mediterranean has huge energy potential much of it untapped until recently. Two years ago a $20 billion deal was signed between US, Israeli and Egyptian companies which involves Houston-based Noble Energy and Tel Aviv-based Delek Drilling supplying 85 billion cubic yards of natural gas over 15 years from Israel’s Tamar and Leviathan fields to Egypt’s Dolphinus Holdings.
- Israel has also begun exporting gas to Jordan.
- Libya has been in a state of almost permanent crisis since the Western intervention in 2011 which toppled long-standing ruler Muammar Gaddafi. The current civil war dates from 2014. The conflict has been internationalised, with Egypt and the UAE backing the government in the east, and Qatar, Sudan and Turkey backing the government in the west.
Looking ahead: Gas exports from Israel to Egypt are a positive step and take place in the context of improved economic relations in the wider Eastern Mediterranean as signified by the upgrading of the EMGF into a fully-fledged international organisation.
- Unlike Israel, Egypt has the infrastructure to liquefy natural gas, making it easier to store and transport. Significant mutual synergies could thus develop, adding a vital economic component to Egypt-Israel relations that are otherwise defined almost solely by coordination on military and security issues.
- But while Israel may look forward to improved relations with Egypt and possibly Jordan, Israel’s difficult relationship with Turkey could be placed under further strain by Turkish actions in Libya designed to thwart the ambitions of the EMGF to export more gas to Europe.