The normalization of ties between Turkey and Israel have burgeoned inter-governmental dialogue on energy cooperation during the past year. The ongoing negotiations for the export of natural gas from Eastern Mediterranean gas field discovered by Israel to Turkey constitute a vital step for the region, highlighted Shaul Meridor, Director-General of Israeli Ministry of Energy in an interview with Daily Sabah at the Atlantic Council Istanbul Summit launched yesterday.
In October 2016, the visit of the Israeli minster of National Infrastructure, Energy and Water Resources to the World Energy Congress in Istanbul marked the beginning of a normalization and reconciliation process after a six-and-half year period of strained relations following the Israeli naval raid on the Turkish aid ship Mavi Marmara while it was en route to deliver humanitarian aid to the blockaded Gaza Strip in 2010.
An agreement for exporting gas from the Leviathan gas field, which was discovered by Israel in 2010 and estimated to contain a reserve of 500 billion cubic meters (bcm), to Turkey has been an important starting point for a normalization process.
"Although neither of the governments nor the companies have signed a deal yet, the ongoing negotiations could be concluded in the very near future," Shaul Meridor explained.
"How soon this agreement could be signed depends on how the two sides grasp or weigh this opportunity," he said. "It is good timing for this kind of agreement, but settling the terms of an agreement between the companies and governments requires time, which will depend on how fast and willingly the governments will take steps to seal this agreement."With regards to the importance of the Turkey-Israel gas agreement for the region, Meridor noted, "We are doing a lot to strike a deal between the countries and the companies involved to export gas from Israel to Turkey," and added, "This particular agreement, I think, will be a good stabilizer for the region as a whole."
Underscoring the significance of gas for the stability and peace in the region, Meridor said, "Gas can strengthen the relationships between governments and should stimulate problem solving."
In that regard, the business of gas is not only a positive trigger for maintaining good terms between Turkey and Israel, but it works to bring solutions to the problems swaying the entire region, Meridor noted, because gas is something countries can economically benefit from, and as a result, could lead to solutions for other regional issues.
Meridor emphasized the importance of the Atlantic Council Istanbul Summit and its role of helping the actors fully comprehend the vast potential of the region. Drawing attention to the abundance of gas in the East Mediterranean and the viable prospect to find more gas therein, Meridor stressed the necessity of devising a strategy that includes Turkey and Europe. In his opinion, such a strategy would enable the players engaged in the region to see, not only the near future, but also decades ahead, eventually leading to more cooperation in a previously conflicted area. The summit, in brief, will outline what can happen if all the actors work toward collaboration.
When asked about the meeting between Israeli officials and Italian, Greek and Greek Cypriot authorities in the beginning of April for a pipeline project designed to carry Eastern Mediterranean gas to Europe through Crete, Greece and Italy, Meridor elaborated on the Israeli energy strategy and highlighted that Israel wants to diversify its export routes, acknowledging that this pipeline is much more challenging than a route through Turkey.The "Eastern Mediterranean," as the actors call it, will be more than 2,000 kilometers (1,243 miles) long and have an estimated cost of 6 billion euros ($6.52 billion).
"We don't see a contradiction, what we see are a lot of routes going to potential export markets, like Italy, Greece, Turkey and the vicinity of Turkey, but we don't see a contradiction," Meridor noted.
As a gas exporter, Israel aims to spread its routes to as many markets as possible, Meridor explained, drawing attention to the enormous amount of gas that the country wants to export, which in return requires a large network.
"That's why we don't consider the East Mediterranean pipeline and the Turkish pipeline in competition. We want to project a couple of routes from the Eastern Mediterranean to export markets, therefore we are checking out all available routes," he said.
Welcoming Turkey's recently relaunched exploration operations in the Mediterranean, Meridor said more actors conducting seismic surveys and discovering gas are necessary to have a better understanding of the geological structure of the region. He underscored that Turkey is excelling in the energy business by working to diversify its energy sources, such as renewable energy, high-tech coals and projects in liquefied natural gas.
"This region is waking up. Now people are starting to understand that, with the depletion of the North Sea in Europe, the Eastern Mediterranean basin could be the next big hype in the gas sector," Meridor said, indicating that as more gas is discovered, the world will understand the significance of the area, especially considering Turks, Americans, Israelis, Egyptians, Italians and Cypriots are already onboard and benefiting from the abundant resources.
Yet, he stressed the necessity to designate a strategy for securing and sustaining cooperation among the parties, a strategy that demands fair allocation and exploitation of the resources. The picture for that strategy, which has steadily become clearer, will gain more strength through efficient collaboration.