A man points as he stands on a tanker carrying liquified natural gas, ten miles off the coast from Hadera.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
It has become clear over the past few years that Israel’s relations with Cyprus and Greece have improved, and that trilateral cooperation has created an Eastern Mediterranean framework that is in part based on shared energy interests. The Levant Basin natural gas discoveries in 2009, 2010 and 2011, combined with the rupture in Israel-Turkey relations, paved the way for enhanced political, economic and military cooperation.
Recent developments, however, indicate that a new Eastern Mediterranean framework including Cyprus, Israel, Jordan and Egypt is forming, and while there is certainly a concrete basis for this new arena in Eastern Mediterranean energy politics, it is unlikely that it will produce a dynamic similar to that between Israel, Cyprus, and Greece.
Israel’s close military ties with Turkey throughout the 1990s and early 2000s limited its bilateral relationships with Cyprus and Greece to cooperative public and private sector economic ties, namely trade and tourism. This changed toward the end of the decade when Israel and Turkey severed virtually all political and defense ties, creating an opening for broader partnerships with Athens and Nicosia that increased with the discovery of natural gas off the shores of Israel and Cyprus and talk of exporting that gas to Europe via Greece.
Despite that option’s infeasibility and the decreasing probability that any Israeli gas will reach Cyprus at all, Israel has conducted several joint air and naval exercises with both Cyprus and Greece, including a trilateral drill with the United States in April. While some of these exercises merely replace the practice space over the Mediterranean that Israel lost when relations with Turkey soured, others have also focused explicitly on simulating defense of offshore natural gas infrastructure, such as the annual Noble Dina military exercise of Israel, the US and Greece.
In addition to security ties, political cooperation has also bolstered relations between Israel and Cyprus. A bilateral 2010 agreement delimiting the Cypriot and Israeli Exclusive Economic Zones was followed by another bilateral agreement in April 2014 that provides for the exchange and protection of confidential information on hydrocarbons discovered in Cyprus’ Block 12 and the adjacent Israeli license.
While Israel and Greece have not signed any formal agreements since the gas was discovered, officials have exchanged several visits at the highest diplomatic levels. Still, Israel, Cyprus and Greece signed a tripartite energy memorandum of understanding in 2013 that mandates cooperation to protect regionally important infrastructure in the Mediterranean where natural gas fields are located, and includes a joint declaration of intent to lay an electric cable to link Israel and Cyprus’s grids that continues to Crete.
The emerging dynamic between Israel, Cyprus, Jordan and Egypt, on the other hand, appears to be more fragmented and limited, and is driven by Egyptian and Jordanian energy insecurity rather than a shared desire to monetize transnational resources. Jordan needs a cheaper source of fuel to replace the heavy, more expensive diesel that the country was forced to import following cuts in natural gas supplies from Egypt following the 2011 uprising. Egypt, meanwhile, has suffered from industry mismanagement and corruption, requiring the former net-energy exporter to import oil and gas. Any future contract that exports gas to Egypt for re-export abroad will likely include a provision for domestic supply.
Israel’s Leviathan consortium has signed non-binding letters of intent to export gas to the Arab Potash Group, Jordan Bromine and the National Electric Power Company in Jordan, and to liquefied natural gas facilities in Egypt operated by BG Group and Union Fenosa Gas. In September, Jordan’s Energy and Mineral Resources Minister Mohammad Hamad said his country would sign a letter of intent to import an unspecified quantity of natural gas from Cyprus, and expects the contract to be signed in 2015.
Egyptian President Abdel Fattah Sisi also issued a decree in September approving the ratification of a framework agreement signed with Cyprus in 2013, which provides for the co-exploitation of hydrocarbon reserves in the adjacent Egyptian and Cypriot Exclusive Economic Zones.
While such signs indicate substantial cooperation, however, it is unlikely that these relations will evolve to include joint military drills that simulate defense of natural gas infrastructure. The Israel- Egypt relationship has certainly warmed under Sisi, but it is difficult to imagine security cooperation that goes beyond intelligence sharing and counterterrorism efforts toward the unstable Sinai. Israel’s relationship with Jordan is measurably better, but joint military drills would be unpopular in Amman, where 40 members of parliament recently signed a memorandum calling on the government to halt plans to import Israeli gas. Meanwhile, neither Egypt nor Jordan have any particular need for maneuver practice space or partners.
In the case of Israel, Cyprus, Jordan and Egypt, natural gas alone will not forge security networks that promote new non-commercial cooperation. As was evident in Israel’s changing relations with Cyprus and Greece, a game-changing political event would also be necessary.
Still, the significance of these various letters of intent, if they do indeed become binding contracts, cannot be underestimated.
East Mediterranean hydrocarbons will factor into regional energy security dynamics for decades to come.The author is a writer based in Washington, DC, and an MA candidate at the George Washington University’s Elliott School of International Affairs. You can follow her on Twitter at @Allison_Good1.