Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis and Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades met in Jerusalem on December 7 where they reaffirmed the strong cooperation between the three Mediterranean countries, especially in energy, regional security, and stability.
Discussions included cooperation on climate change and the long-term effects of the COVID-19 crisis. Israel, Greece, and Cyprus also reportedly launched a trilateral forum for security and natural disaster reduction and prevention, to better prepare for fires and other emergency situations.
“This cooperation has now been extended to include energy in its broader sense, not just natural gas: climate change, including the outcomes of COP26, the environment, renewables, electrical interconnections, clean energy technologies and mutual assistance in case of wildfires,” Charles Ellinas, senior fellow at the Atlantic Council’s Global Energy Center, told NE Global on December 7.
He reminded that all three countries have signed inter-governmental agreements supporting the Euro-Asia interconnector, also backed by the EU as a project of common interest.
Ellinas noted that even though, as usual, there were expected to be references to the EastMed gas pipeline, this is no longer the center of attention, perhaps reflecting the fact that the likelihood of the project ever materializing is receding fast, as Europe speeds up decarbonization in the light of the Green Deal and Fit-for-55.
“It seems to me that Greece is heading towards the diplomacy of the green energy,” Constantinos Filis, director of research at Institute of International Relations, told NE Global by phone on December 9. “It is obvious that Greece’s government in banking on this new reality that has emerged with regards to the energy map,” he said. He noted, however, that natural gas is and will be important for the next decade as a transition fuel.
Filis reminded that Greece and Egypt agreed in October on a plan to build an undersea cable linking their electricity grids. “All these projects are demanding, and, of course, they are very ambitious. So, we can’t really tell whether they are going to be materialized or remain on paper as it has happened with energy projects in the past.”
Ellinas said there was expected to also be discussion of plans to send Israeli gas to Egypt for onward exports to Europe and Greece. Greece and Egypt recently agreed to cooperate in the supply of liquified natural gas (LNG), including the possibility of building a gas pipeline to connect the two countries, even though this may prove challenging. “Egypt aspires to become the energy hub of the East Med and Greece the energy hub of southeast Europe – Israel supports both, given their potential to utilize Israeli gas,” Ellinas said.
During the summit on December 7, Anastasiades reportedly hailed a recent agreement on solar energy and water between Israel and Jordan, which was brokered by the United Arab Emirates, noting that the deal manifests the potential of the region as a pioneer in cross-border energy cooperation.
Ellinas told NE Global that the three countries are shifting attention to clean energy and potential joint renewables projects, including technological know-how. “The recently announced partnerships between Israel and Egypt and Israel and Jordan, brokered by the UAE, involving ambitious solar power and water desalination projects are an embodiment of this shift,” he said.
Asked about boosting security in the region, Ellinas said the summit was expected to reconfirm the importance of the 3 + 1 association, with the participation of the US, and its importance and contribution to regional security.
Ellinas noted that in the light of Turkey’s renewed threats to Cyprus, in response to the forthcoming drilling and the award of block 5 in Cyprus EEZ to ExxonMobil, and renewed overtures to Israel to normalise relations, the summit was expected to reconfirm the strategic relationship between the three countries based on shared values. They will also reconfirm support to Cyprus regarding the Cyprus problem and Varosha.
Asked if it is going to deter Turkey’s aggressive behavior, Ellinas quipped, “I do not think so and likely quite the opposite. On the one hand, and in some respects, Turkey’s aggressive behavior is one of the factors that brings these countries closer together, and on the other hand, ironically, Turkey sees such cooperation as a threat to itself”.
Filis agreed that despite previous declarations from Greece, Cyprus and Israel, Ankara’s behavior has not changed.
Ellinas argued that Turkey is single-mindedly pursuing an assertive and uncompromising agenda in the East Med, in support of its hegemonistic plans. “It has been trying to split the East Med countries through overtures to Israel and Egypt and more recently the UAE. These summits provide the answer. East Med countries value their cooperation and place this above any other regional arrangements. Potential normalisation of diplomatic ties with Turkey is not a substitute and will not endanger this cooperation,” he argued.
The three countries have held multiple summits in recent years with Ellinas adding, “The summit provides an opportunity to reconfirm this and the adherence of the three countries to internationally accepted norms”.