Energy is changing Israel’s foreign policy - opinion

The Abraham Accords between Israel and several Arab states, including the oil-rich countries, further illustrate Israel’s energy centric-foreign policy.

 Israel's Energy Minister Karin Elharrar is seen signing a climate cooperation deal with Jordan in Dubai, on November 22, 2021. (photo credit: Courtesy)
Israel's Energy Minister Karin Elharrar is seen signing a climate cooperation deal with Jordan in Dubai, on November 22, 2021.
(photo credit: Courtesy)

For centuries, energy concerns have influenced defense, economics, and the environment. Starting with the British Empire’s decision to found coaling stations to support the imperial navy to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, energy has impacted security decisions at every level.

Future energy sources are destined to be just as transformative and disruptive to the international system. This ongoing transformation is showcased in no better example than Israel’s sensitive energy-centric diplomacy.

Its energy-focused foreign and security policy comes in the wake of the Russian ruble climbing to a seven-year high, owing to high oil prices triggered by sanctions against Russia and the post-COVID global recovery. With Europe reeling due to dependence on Russian gas, Israel has stepped in and is in talks to fill this vacuum with its own gas exports by exporting gas to Europe via Egypt.

However, Israel’s diplomacy and the future of energy politics are not just about changing logistics or suppliers. Dr. Alexander V. Mirtchev, in his groundbreaking The Prologue: The Alternative Energy Megatrend in the Age of Great Power Competition, elucidates on the changing landscape of energy politics. The book provides an excellent model for Israeli diplomacy.

Mirtchev, a vice-chair at the Atlantic Council, a leading Washington think tank, and a founding member of the Council to the Kissinger Institute on China and the US at the Woodrow Wilson International Center, argues that the vigorous pursuit of innovation and an expeditious entry into the realm of the unknown is becoming a key ingredient in the competition between global powers, resulting in energy rebalancing between actors.

The Leviathan gas platform, 10km. offshore Israel (credit: ALBATROSS)The Leviathan gas platform, 10km. offshore Israel (credit: ALBATROSS)

Mirtchev is not alone in this assessment. Former secretary of state and national security adviser Henry Kissinger concurs, stating “Mirtchev’s sweeping exploration of the changing energy landscape looks far into the future and outlines issues that will occupy scholars and policymakers for decades to come.”

Former director of the FBI William Sessions believes the megatrend described by Mirtchev has succeeded in breaking through the complexities of the current alternative energy development strategies. World Bank vice president for sustainable development Rachel Kyte notes, “The alternative energy megatrend as described in Alexander Mirtchev’s book, occupies a large and growing role in the World Bank’s energy portfolio and policy advice.”

It is worth analyzing what this forward-looking trajectory, a megatrend, means for Israel’s changing foreign policy considering the Abraham Accords, the Iranian threat, and its wish to export gas to Europe.

Israel’s foreign policy through the lens of energy

Mirtchev posits that security considerations are driving Israel’s energy strategies. The use of solar-based battery chargers and new approaches to providing energy to military bases are obvious examples. Counterintuitively, Mirtchev also explains how Israel’s booming natural gas industry interplays with technological and regional dynamics: “Combined with the increased use of domestic natural gas, Israel can utilize alternative energy as a balancing factor in its relations with its energy-rich neighbors. These considerations are already leading to advances in alternative energy [...].”

Energy has also recently played a critical role in Turkish-Israeli relations. While some experts speculate on Turkey’s latest charm offensive, hoping to repair long-strained Turkish-Israeli relations, energy is obviously paramount. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan stated as much in February, “We can use Israeli natural gas in our country and beyond using it, we can also engage in a joint effort on its passage to Europe.”

It is these same energy concerns that drive Israel’s engagement with various Mediterranean states. Israel’s energy alliance with Greece, Cyprus, Egypt and Italy aims to transport Israeli gas to Europe via the Euro-Asia interconnector, which was announced in April, to boost alternatives after the Russian invasion of Ukraine. With these states also announcing the EastMed subsea pipeline to supplement delivery capabilities, it is unsurprising that Turkey is both rhetorically retaliating against Europe and seeking ties with Israel.

The perennial Iranian nuclear issue is another excellent example of this. While seeking nuclear weapons and funding terrorism are political projects, energy is also at their apex. Oil revenues enable their activities, and Iran is now attempting to leverage the Ukrainian crisis to do so.

Last week, Iran announced they are going to increase cooperation with Russia by swapping energy supplies and setting up a logistics hub with a Russian accord. The simple aim is to help both parties bypass sanctions and provide plausible deniability to politically uncommitted buyers. If the international community wants to pressure Iran and Russia successfully, it must find a way to hamper their energy industries and simultaneously pressure both parties.

The Abraham Accords between Israel and several Arab states, including the oil-rich United Arab Emirates and Bahrain, further illustrate Israel’s energy centric-foreign policy. A taste of the future alternative energy paradigm surfaced last November with the signing of a water-for-energy deal between Israel and Jordan. Months later, a UAE-Egyptian consortium announced intentions to buy South African renewables firm Lekela, giving Abu Dhabi’s Masdar, owned by UAE’s sovereign investment company Mubadala, a presence in southern Africa.

Israel’s recent energy-centric diplomacy showcases what Mirtchev argues: “the alternative energy megatrend [...] has already begun to shape the way production choices are made and energy is distributed.”

As alternative energy and technologies advance, this megatrend will create opportunities for relations between states and upset existing power balances. Israel’s foreign policy transformation already acts as a testimony to this major development.

The writer is a Middle East expert, the managing editor at the The Jerusalem Institute for Strategy and Security and a Ph.D. candidate at Bar-Ilan University. He is formerly the Middle East correspondent for The Jerusalem Post.