By Endy Zemenides *
Many commentators argue that the Israeli-Turkish deal on rapprochement has changed the context of the Cyprus problem and has potentially put Cyprus and Israel at odds when it comes to energy diplomacy. These conclusions are premature at best — and perhaps nonsensical altogether for (four) main reasons:
The “deal”, did not include any explicit agreement on natural gas. We’ve known for years that Turkey has wanted to get into the energy game in the Eastern Mediterranean, that its companies had been digging around, and that even Noble Energy had been rumored to be pushing for a pipeline to Turkey. The rapprochement has so far not dealt with any of the items that we have all speculated over. It is still all speculation.
It is quite a leap to believe that Israel would risk its closest ally (and perhaps allies) in the EU to even plan a pipeline which no one could guarantee could be developed. Objections by the Republic of Cyprus (which would be certain absent a solution) would significantly delay any pipeline even if Israel were committed to it. And then Israel could potentially lose its greatest advocates in the EU in Nicosia and Athens. Those who don’t pay attention to the priority Israel gives to designating Hezbollah as a terrorist organization (Cyprus has led on this front) or against labelling and the worldwide Boycott, Divest and Sanction Israel movement (Athens has been helpful here) doesn’t fully grasp all of Israel’s strategic interests.
As has been discussed by the State Department, the Vice President’s office and think tanks in Washington, D.C., no one expects there to be a single pipeline that serves to bring Eastern Mediterranean gas to market. Thus, those who treat statements in favor of a Israel-Cyprus-Greece pipeline, or cooperation with Egypt as incompatible with a pipeline to Turkey clearly have not been paying attention to the policy debate at all. Just last month at the PSEKA Conference, the State Department’s Amos Hochstein laid out a vision of Cyprus being a key player in a regional energy infrastructure “with pipelines headed in multiple directions.” He articulated an American vision where existing infrastructure — including according to Hochstein “the unutilized export terminals in Egypt” — was utilized by every gas producer. Hochstein spoke about different phases of energy development at the PSEKA Conference, and admitted that the Egyptian option may come first, especially if Turkey does not help to resolve the Cyprus issue. Vice President Biden has also spoke about Cyprus’ role in Eastern Mediterranean energy diplomacy, and about how the Administration sees Cyprus as a point where many players can come together (even Turkey and Egypt). It is clearly NOT part of the American strategy to have Cyprus become a destabilizing factor in energy diplomacy.
Finally, Noble-Delek would be the one bringing the Israeli gas to Turkey, and it is also the company with rights over the Aphrodite find. No one has provided any analysis whatsoever as to whether Noble would risk its relationship with Cyprus (and its discoveries in Aphrodite) to pursue a pipeline over Cyprus’ objections. The delays Noble has experienced so far, and the fact that antitrust regulators in Israel may still force to divest some of its interests in Leviathan and Tamar, make it that much more unlikely that Noble would risk Aphrodite entirely.
The conclusion? We are exactly where we were before the announcement of the Israeli-Turkish deal. There is an argument that the rapprochement may make the Turkish private sector lobby harder for a successful resolution in Cyprus, so that not only a deal with Israel, but with Cyprus and maybe Egypt can benefit Turkey.
- Executive Director of the Hellenic American Leadership Council