Israel, Turkey and gas

It is becoming evident that a veiled agenda underpinned the recent Turkish willingness to consider a rapprochement with Israel.

turkish PM Erdogan 370 (photo credit: REUTERS/Stringer)
turkish PM Erdogan 370
(photo credit: REUTERS/Stringer)
Word is that both Israel and Turkey are seriously entertaining the notion of constructing an undersea pipeline to deliver Israeli natural gas to Turkey and, perhaps, hence to Europe.
The Turks reportedly have expressed willingness to foot part of the estimated $2 billion bill. Such pipelines exist elsewhere in the world, most notably from Russia and from Norway.
It is becoming evident that a veiled agenda underpinned the recent Turkish willingness to consider a rapprochement with Israel. Turkey, it appears, hankers after Israeli gas. The perceived Turkish softening was fueled by Israel’s offshore gas discoveries, a fact which nevertheless did not impel Ankara to forgo humiliating Israel.
Turkey grows increasingly dependent on Russia for its gas supplies. This hardly instills joy in Turkish hearts, especially considering the fact that Moscow and Ankara are at direct loggerheads over Syria. Israel, having repeatedly proven itself both reliable and exceedingly pliable, is now regarded as a safer bet for Turkish gas supplies – certainly safer than such alternatives to Russia as Iran. Moreover, Israeli gas could be had at a significantly lower cost.
But this is not all as rosy as meets the eye. Whereas Israel is incontrovertibly a dependable business partner, can we can count on Turkey? Still searing are memories of our own gas purchases from Egypt. The Muslim Brotherhood takeover in Cairo abruptly terminated this mutually beneficial deal. There is no guarantee that Turkey would not go the same route, particularly given its about-turn against Israel a few years ago and the festering danger that it too might be a candidate for an even more extreme Islamic transformation than the one it has already undergone.
In other words, the mooted arrangement hinges almost entirely on Turkish goodwill, and that goodwill can by no stretch of the imagination be taken for granted.
Then, as was the case with Egypt, there is the matter of the pipeline’s security. Israel’s gas purchases from Egypt were doomed when the Sinai pipeline was serially sabotaged. Can a pipeline that runs parallel to the Lebanese and Syrian coasts be assumed to be invulnerable? Last, but hardly least, is Cyprus. A deal with Turkey would undermine cooperation already fostered with the Cypriot Greeks, whose own gas discoveries are anathema to Ankara which occupies the northern parts of the island. Do we really want to ditch Cyprus in favor of an unpredictable and hardly friendly business partner? Pipelines can also be built in the Cypriot direction and another possibility is liquefying the gas and transporting it to Europe by tankers. It may be more expensive but this would be offset by the removal of pipeline security concerns. Also, Cyprus has allocated land for a liquefaction plant, which would relieve Israel of another safety headache.
There is of course a wholly different alternative – avoiding exports to Europe altogether and with them the undesirable competition with the ruthless Russians.
Israel can earmark its exports for the Far East, where it can net far greater revenue. This would mean a pipeline to Eilat, a gas liquefaction plant in the South and shipping therefrom in tankers.
In short, Israel is not without export alternatives.
Attractive as reinforced ties and renewed cooperation with Turkey might be, we need to resist temptation.
Turkey’s rulers are closely allied to the Muslim Brotherhood and that bodes ill for Israel.
If approved, the gas pipeline could prove one of Israel’s biggest-ever strategic errors.
We cannot entrust this prized export – one that could overhaul our financial viability – to Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s hands. The thought that he would be granted an extortionist stranglehold over our economic future should send shivers down all our spines.
To this must be added the question of our national honor. We might belittle its importance, but this is not how national honor is viewed in the Islamic world, of which Turkey is a part.
We would do much better either by avoiding Europe as an export destination or by teaming up with non-Muslim partners who are not hostile and who need our business.