Von der Leyen: Israel will help free EU from depending on Russian energy

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett calls on Lebanon to use its own gas and stop fighting with Israel.

 EUROPEAN COMMISSION President Ursula von der Leyen arrives for a summit of European Union leaders in Brussels, last month.  (photo credit: JOHANNA GERON/REUTERS)
EUROPEAN COMMISSION President Ursula von der Leyen arrives for a summit of European Union leaders in Brussels, last month.
(photo credit: JOHANNA GERON/REUTERS)

Working with Israel will help reduce the EU’s dependence on Russia, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said during her visit to Israel on Tuesday.

The Kremlin has used our dependency on Russian fossil fuels to blackmail us,” von der Leyen said as she received an honorary doctorate from Ben-Gurion University. “Since the beginning of the war, Russia has deliberately cut off its gas supplies to Poland, Bulgaria and Finland, and Dutch and Danish companies, in retaliation for our support to Ukraine.”

Von der Leyen added: “The Kremlin's behavior only strengthens our resolve to break free of our dependence on Russian fossil fuels. For instance, we are exploring ways to step up our energy cooperation with Israel.”

Two ways in which Europe plans to work with Israel, she said, is to lay the EuroAsia Interconnector, the world’s longest and deepest underwater power cable, connecting Israel to the EU electric grid via Cyprus and Greece, and the EastMed Pipeline, meant to be the world’s longest, also from Israel to Cyprus and Greece. Neither has happened yet, but the EuroAsia Interconnector has EU funding.

"Russia has deliberately cut off its gas supplies to Poland, Bulgaria and Finland, and Dutch and Danish companies, in retaliation for our support to Ukraine.”

European Commission President Von der Leyen

“This is an investment in both Europe's and Israel's energy security and this infrastructure will also contribute to decarbonizing our energy mix,” she said.

 EUROPEAN COMMISSION President Ursula von der Leyen arrives at the European Parliament in Brussels last week for a special session to debate the response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. (credit: YVES HERMAN/REUTERS) EUROPEAN COMMISSION President Ursula von der Leyen arrives at the European Parliament in Brussels last week for a special session to debate the response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. (credit: YVES HERMAN/REUTERS)

Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi, also in Jerusalem this week, discussed energy issues with Prime Minister Naftali Bennett.

“Europe needs energy fast, and Israel has natural gas in its economic waters,” Bennett said. “This is good news for Israel, Italy and Europe.”

Von der Leyen arrived in Israel at a time when Jerusalem, Cairo and Brussels have advanced towards a natural gas export deal.

Background

The European Commission sent a proposal to EU member states last week on importing gas from Israel to Europe via Egypt, to reduce reliance on fossil fuel imports from Russia. The draft deal establishes the principles for enhanced cooperation between the three partners but does not say how much gas the EU would import nor set any timelines for deliveries.

The document said shipments would include the use of liquefied natural gas (LNG) infrastructure in Egypt, noting the North African country's plan to become a regional hub for natural gas.

Bennett also referred to Lebanon’s opposition to Israel allowing Energean to hook up a rig to the Karish natural gas reservoir, about 80 km. (50 miles) west of Haifa. Lebanon claimed that Israel was acting in an area under dispute; however, it is not in the zone Beirut has officially disputed in a map submitted to the UN.

“I also look forward to the day in which Lebanon decides it is ready to make use of the natural gas in its economic waters,” he said. “It’s unfortunate that the leadership in Lebanon, rather than developing the gas for the good of its citizens, is busy with fighting internal and external fights. I suggest the Lebanese government take advantage of the opportunity to improve its economy and to build a better future for the Lebanese people.”

Von der Leyen also emphasized the importance of solutions for climate change, quoting first prime minister David Ben-Gurion who sought to “make the desert bloom,” and Israeli innovations in desert agriculture.

“For decades, Europe and Israel have cooperated closely on science and innovation,” she said. “Just last December, Israel joined the EU's massive research and innovation program…It is now time to put our cooperation at the service of the world's neediest, and at the service of the fight against climate change.”

The European Commission president also addressed the rise of antisemitism on the continent.

“European Jewish life is…embattled and endangered. Antisemitism has not disappeared. It still poisons our societies. And antisemitic attacks happen, today, in Europe. It is a new threat and it is the same old evil. Every new generation must take responsibility so that the past does not return. This is why I have put the fight against anti-Semitism and fostering Jewish life in Europe at the core of the European Commission's agenda,” she said.

Von der Leyen pointed out that the first Russian bombs on Kyiv fell at the site of the Babyn Yar memorial, where the Nazis murdered over 100,000 Jews.

“We see with great worry the age-old threat of scapegoating the Jewish people in times of war,” she said. “I know that Israel has helped Ukraine with tons of humanitarian aid and a field hospital, and you have welcomed tens of thousands of Ukrainian refugees to your land.”

Reuters contributed to this report.