A new friendship with U.S. support

The possible construction of the EastMed pipeline will be the flagship project of the Cypriot-Greek-Israeli collaboration, but the developing friendship enjoys deep foundations.

A natural gas platform of the coast of Israel. (photo credit: REUTERS)
A natural gas platform of the coast of Israel.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
If there is a prerequisite for success in foreign policy schemes, it is trust among the partners involved. Cyprus, Greece and Israel are developing a solid partnership in the Eastern Mediterranean because they share similar interests and values and are reliable allies. Friendship is perhaps a better lemma to describe this partnership. The sixth tripartite summit, which takes place only three months after the Beersheba one, outlines the harmonious nature of the collaboration.
From the very beginning, the US favored the forging of a democratic bloc in the Eastern Mediterranean that would be composed of the three countries. In recent months, its support has become open and official. Ambassador David Friedman attended the Beersheba meeting last December; the presence of Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in the sixth Jerusalem summit now gives new impetus. The American role in the trilateral foreign policy scheme has been clearly institutionalized.
Natural gas discoveries in the Levantine Basin explain the US interest. The process is ongoing. Last month, for example, ExxonMobil found another gas-bearing reservoir offshore Cyprus, known as Glaucus. Beyond business appetite, Washington counts on energy security, and demands that its partners rely on a policy diversification. The more Western countries import from what America sees as safe sources such as the basin, the more they will reduce their dependency on Russia.
Discoveries in the Eastern Mediterranean can hardly run smoothly, though, as long as Turkey continues with its aggressive policy. It is not rare for Ankara to either organize military exercises in the Exclusive Economic Zone of Cyprus or to disrupt drilling operations of foreign companies, such as Italy’s ENI. That is why the presence of Pompeo in Jerusalem has special meaning. The initial agreement on the potential construction of the EastMed pipeline causes frustration in Ankara because the country will be excluded from the proposed transportation corridor.
More importantly, there is consensus in Washington that the Western foreign policy orientation of Turkey should not be taken for granted any longer. The decision of President Tayyip Erdogan to buy S-400 missiles from Russia constitutes the most characteristic example. For the time being, Erdogan insists on his intention to proceed with the purchase and defies American pressure.
The US support for the EastMed pipeline will perhaps function as another warning message to Ankara to normalize its international behavior. The project remains expensive and difficult indeed. Also, Italy has recently appeared hesitant to join it – contrary to its previous commitments. But as long as the US practically advocates for the project’s realization, obstacles will be overcome.
Irrespective of Erdogan’s future choices, Cyprus, Greece and Israel will continue deepening their cooperation. The juncture is critical. NATO places particular emphasis on dealing with challenges in the South. In that regard, the Mediterranean Dialogue of the Alliance is being revitalized and the contribution of Israel could be beneficial for countries involved. These include Algeria, Egypt, Jordan, Mauritania, Morocco and Tunisia.
Additionally, Greece and Cyprus have the possibility to remind their partners in the EU why the security of Israel should not be forgotten as a fundamental priority. It is certainly bizarre that Brussels envisages playing an active role in the Middle East, when it regularly ignores the sensitivities of the only democratic state in the region. Ironically, the terrorist attacks taking place in Europe in recent years underline the need to carefully study the Israeli model in coping with the problem.
The three countries – Greece and Israel in particular – can also benefit from the good momentum, and sincerely discuss experiences about the implementation of the Belt and Road Initiative in the Eastern Mediterranean and the progress of Chinese investments. Both Greece and Israel are of high interest to Chinese companies. For instance, the Shanghai International Port Group (SIPG), which has signed an agreement with Israeli authorities to operate the Haifa Port from 2020 onward, is teaming up with China Ocean Shipping Company to promote container shipping traffic. In a period when China is largely seen as an adversary in the West, COSCO’s successful investment in the Piraeus Port challenges this view.
The possible construction of the EastMed pipeline will be the flagship project of the Cypriot-Greek-Israeli collaboration, but the developing friendship enjoys deep foundations and is multifaceted, having the potential to touch upon additional issues and fields in the future. The US would refrain from endorsing an opportunistic alliance in such an explicit manner.
The writer is a research associate at Bar-Ilan University’s Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies, and a senior associate and lecturer at the European Institute of Nice and the Democritus University of Thrace.