Israeli natural gas field in the Mediterranean.
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
The leaders of Israel, Greece and Cyprus said on Thursday at a trilateral summit in Thessaloniki that they would speed up the planning for a pipeline channeling gas to Europe from the gas reserves in the eastern Mediterranean.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, in remarks he made with his Greek and Cypriot counterparts after their trilateral meeting, said he was “excited” about the pipeline that he added would connect the three countries, as well as Italy.
Netanyahu said that following the preliminary studies of the plan, “it seems promising.”
European governments and Israel agreed in April to move forward with a Mediterranean pipeline project to carry natural gas from Israel to Europe, setting a target date of 2025 for completion. The cost of the 2,000- km. pipeline is expected to reach some $6.7 billion.
Europe is keen to diversify its energy supplies, and Greece wants to promote itself as a hub for the transit of gas from the eastern Mediterranean to the continent. Under the plan, the gas would then flow from Greece to Italy.
“We agreed to expedite our joint actions concerning our agreement on the construction of a large project which will offer new prospects of economic cooperation in the eastern Mediterranean,” Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras said at a press conference with Netanyahu and Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades.
The three leaders said they would also pursue the development of an electricity cable linking their countries.
The EuroAsia Interconnector will carry electricity generated in Israel and sent via Cyprus, the Greek island of Crete and mainland Greece to European grids.
These two issues have been at the center of the two previous trilateral summits held last year.
In addition to energy and innovation issues, the three leaders also discussed wider regional issues, including Syria, the Cyprus-Turkey issue and the Palestinians.
Tsipras called for a renewal of Israeli-Palestinian negotiations toward a two-state solution, and stressed the right of Israelis – “like other people in the region” – to live in safety.
He said that he and Netanyahu “always talk openly and honestly,” and that the settlement issue was raised.
Netanyahu noted that the Jewish presence in Thessaloniki dates back over 2,000 years, and that it was a meeting ground of Jewish and Greek culture. He said that what “amazed” him when these trilateral summits were initiated last year, was that despite having a rich past with Greece and Cyprus, the present was “very cool and removed.”
“I thought that it had to change because there’s a simple fact about Cyprus, Greece and Israel that brings us very close together: We’re all democracies, real democracies. And when you look in the present in our region, especially looking eastward and some other directions as well, that’s not a very common commodity,” he said.
In addition to holding both joint and separate meetings with Tsipras and Anastasiades, Netanyahu – along with his two counterparts – attended the unveiling of a plaque to mark the construction of a Holocaust museum in Thessaloniki. Nearly the entire pre-war Jewish community of 60,000 Jews in the city was wiped out during the Holocaust.Reuters contributed to this report.