Turkey and Israel could have a great green energy partnership - opinion

The hope is that this Turco-Israeli enterprise will lead the way to free the enormous potential, for generating vast quantities of carbon-free, environmentally safe electric power.

 PRESIDENT ISAAC Herzog, with his wife Michal at his side, delivers a statement at Ben-Gurion Airport, before departing for a state visit to Turkey, in March. (photo credit: YOSSI ZELIGER/FLASH90)
PRESIDENT ISAAC Herzog, with his wife Michal at his side, delivers a statement at Ben-Gurion Airport, before departing for a state visit to Turkey, in March.
(photo credit: YOSSI ZELIGER/FLASH90)

The tentative rapprochement with Israel, initiated by Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Christmas Day 2020, has resulted in a major environmental achievement. 

Earlier this month, it was announced that an agreement had been signed for the world’s largest-ever wave power plant to be built by the Israeli company Eco Wave Power (EWP) in the Turkish port of Ordu on the Black Sea coast. EWP, founded in Tel Aviv in 2011, has developed smart and cost-efficient technology for turning ocean waves into green electricity.

The Oren Ordu Enerji company will assign nine potentially suitable breakwaters to EWP for 25 years, while EWP will be responsible for constructing and commissioning power plants and selling the generated electricity in accordance with a production quota to be determined for the site.

The $150m. project functions by connecting an array of steel floats to an onshore generator by way of an underwater umbilical pipeline. The floats are hinged to piston-equipped arms that pump in time with the rise and fall of incoming waves. The plant, which will eventually generate 77 megawatts (MW), will be preceded by a 4MW pilot.

Inna Braverman, head of EWP said: “This landmark agreement will allow us to provide clean electricity from Turkish waves for the first time.”

“This landmark agreement will allow us to provide clean electricity from Turkish waves for the first time.”

Head of EWP Inna Braverman
Turkey's President Tayyip Erdogan attends a meeting with Russia's President Vladimir Putin (not pictured) on the sidelines of the 6th summit of the Conference on Interaction and Confidence-building Measures in Asia (CICA), in Astana, Kazakhstan, October 13, 2022. (credit: Sputnik/Vyacheslav Prokofyev/Pool via Reuters)Turkey's President Tayyip Erdogan attends a meeting with Russia's President Vladimir Putin (not pictured) on the sidelines of the 6th summit of the Conference on Interaction and Confidence-building Measures in Asia (CICA), in Astana, Kazakhstan, October 13, 2022. (credit: Sputnik/Vyacheslav Prokofyev/Pool via Reuters)

Braverman, an Israeli entrepreneur and businesswoman, was born in Ukraine and came with her family to Israel at the age of three. When only 24, she founded Eco Wave Power; under her leadership the company installed its first grid-connected wave energy array in Gibraltar in 2016. 

EWP became the first Israeli company ever to be listed on Nasdaq Stockholm. She is the winner of the UN Global Climate Action Award among many others. In June, she received an honorary fellowship from the University of Haifa, her alma mater.

Unlike other green energy sources, such as solar and wind power, waves are not only zero-carbon but continuous. The oceans are in constant motion. As King Canute is reputed to have discovered, nothing can stop the sea. 

Unfortunately, the cost of electricity generated by wave power, currently varying between 60 cents per kilowatt hour to as much as a dollar, is too high to be commercially viable. However, the costs have always been predicted to fall substantially, provided more research and development money is put into the technology. That process now seems to be underway. Aptly, the tide is turning.

What about the Turkey-Israel relationship?

TURKEY’S RELATIONSHIP with Israel too, heralded by Erdogan’s press conference on December 25, 2020, has been changing for the better. The previous 13 years’ relations between Turkey and Israel had been – to say the least – rancorous. As the self-proclaimed champion of the Sunni Muslim world in general, and the Palestinian cause in particular, Erdogan lost no opportunity to castigate, censure and berate Israel.

His ire was especially roused by Israel’s incursion into Gaza in 2008 to stop Hamas firing rockets indiscriminately into the country. It culminated in his venomous attack on Israel’s then-president Shimon Peres at the Davos conference in January 2009. 

The Mavi Marmara affair in 2010, categorized by Erdogan as an armed Israeli attack on a humanitarian convoy (though much still needs to be explained) soured relations between Turkey and Israel for six years. Diplomatic ties were restored only in 2016. Two years later, in 2018, when the US recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and moved its embassy there from Tel Aviv, Turkey recalled its ambassador to Israel, and Israel followed suit.

Considering these statements and actions, Erdogan’s comments in December 2020 caught the world by surprise. Among other conciliatory remarks, he declared that “our heart desires that we can move our relations with [Israel] to a better point.”

The reason for Erdogan’s change of direction has remained a matter of speculation, but Middle East watchers soon began to notice a marked decline in anti-Israel rhetoric. Then, on July 13, 2021, the media reported the unexpected news that Erdogan had phoned Israel’s newly elected president, Isaac Herzog, to offer his congratulations. The surprise was all the greater when it emerged that the call between the two presidents had lasted 40 minutes.

Official accounts of the conversation report the leaders agreeing on the importance of ties between Israel and Turkey, and the great potential for cooperation in many fields, in particular energy, tourism and technology. Diplomatic relations, suspended in 2018, were restored later in 2021. Israel’s ambassador to Turkey was appointed in September, to be followed by Turkey’s ambassador to Israel in November.

This year has seen several Israeli ministers visiting Turkey, their way led by Herzog, who was hosted by Erdogan in March. On November 17, as soon as it was clear that Benjamin Netanyahu had emerged as the winner of Israel’s general election, Erdogan was on the phone to offer his congratulations. The two are reported to have agreed to work together to bring about “a new era” in Ankara-Jerusalem ties.

Now comes the news of this ambitious green energy collaboration, the largest wave power plant in the world. The hope is that this Turco-Israeli enterprise will lead the way to free the enormous potential, currently locked up in the world’s oceans, for generating vast quantities of carbon-free, environmentally safe electric power.

The writer is the Middle East correspondent for Eurasia Review. His latest book is Trump and the Holy Land: 2016-2020. Follow him at: www.a-mid-east-journal.blogspot.com.