The Russian-Ukraine war may be a gas opportunity for Israel - editorial

Heavy sanctions issued against Russia mean that Europe is now receiving 10% less gas than before.

 A worker checks pipes at a gas compressor station on the Yamal-Europe pipeline near Nesvizh, some 130 km (81 miles) southwest of Minsk, December 29, 2006. (photo credit: REUTERS/VASILY FEDOSENKO)
A worker checks pipes at a gas compressor station on the Yamal-Europe pipeline near Nesvizh, some 130 km (81 miles) southwest of Minsk, December 29, 2006.
(photo credit: REUTERS/VASILY FEDOSENKO)

Just like Israel was unexpectedly thrust into the middle of negotiations to seek an end to the Russian invasion of Ukraine, when Prime Minister Naftali Bennett flew to Moscow and held multiple conversations with Russian President Vladimir Putin and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, another unexpected war-related issue is also bringing Israel to the spotlight and presenting it with a unique opportunity.

Europe could end up short 40 million tons of natural gas, around 10% of its annual consumption, should Russian shipments dry up due to Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine, pressuring the region to explore alternative sources of fuel.

Germany last month froze the certification of Nord Stream 2, which was due to pipe gas from Russia to Germany.

“We have every right to take a matching decision and impose an embargo on gas pumping through the Nord Stream 1 gas pipeline,” Russian Deputy Prime Minister Alexander Novak said this week.

Europe’s natural-gas shortage, which has pushed prices to multiyear highs, has revived talk of the EastMed pipeline, a Mediterranean Sea pipeline that could carry gas from Israel to European customers, Chevron CEO Michael Wirth said Monday at the CERAWeek energy conference.

 A VIEW OF the Israeli Leviathan gas field gas processing rig near Caesarea. (credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST) A VIEW OF the Israeli Leviathan gas field gas processing rig near Caesarea. (credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)

The $7 billion EastMed pipeline, meant to transfer natural gas from Israeli waters to Europe via Greece and Cyprus, was announced in 2016. Several agreements have been signed between the three countries on the subject, and they initially aimed to complete the massive project by 2025, but no financing has been secured for it.

Last January, in a surprise move, the Biden administration informed Israel, Greece and Cyprus that it no longer supported the proposed pipeline from Israel to Europe, citing the need to “[allow] for future exports of electricity produced by renewable energy sources, benefiting nations in the region.”

The announcement expressed reservations of its economic viability, but it was also seen as an attempt to bring Turkey back into the regional equation.

Since then, however, due to the Russian invasion, an energy crisis has been looming. Seeking to ratchet up the pressure on Putin, the US said Washington and its European allies were considering banning Russian oil imports. Oil prices spiked to their highest levels since 2008. Many European countries are heavily reliant on Russian energy

“A rejection of Russian oil would lead to catastrophic consequences for the global market,” Novak said, adding that the price could more than double to over $300 per barrel.

Israel is poised to be a big help in alleviating the energy shortage that much of Europe could be facing.

In December, Bennett held talks with his Greek and Cypriot counterparts. Among the topics discussed were the EastMed gas pipeline and the Euro-Asia Interconnector, the world’s longest and deepest undersea power cable, which will help prepare the region for a clean-energy transition.

At a joint press conference, Bennett said the trilateral alliance was “good for our people, good for our countries and good for the region.”

With the current war, the pipeline could also be vital for Europe. But while it presents Israel an opportunity to revitalize the EastMed gas pipeline plan, which would benefit the state, caution is advised in proceeding.

Israel can’t be seen as taking advantage of, or exploiting for financial gain, the hardships facing Europe as a result of the continent’s energy crisis. It won’t take much – or anything – for Israel’s detractors to warp a prospective pipeline into a ploy by the Jewish state to gain an influential foothold on the European continent.

The EastMed pipeline could provide solutions to one of the biggest problems facing Europe that has emerged as a result of the brutal Russian aggression against the Ukrainian people. It is incumbent on Israel to explore ways to push forward the plan with or without the participation or approval of the US. But it needs to be done smartly, quietly and with nuance.

Israel may benefit by the pipeline, but the focus – for now at least – needs to be on the millions of people it will help.