The Israeli cabinet last week approved a pipeline deal to move gas offshore via Cyprus to Greece and Europe. The 1,900-kilometer (1,181 miles) link will connect gas fields in the Eastern Mediterranean basin to European markets. The $6 billion project, many years in the discussion, was boosted in January by an agreement signed in Athens between Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his Greek and Cypriot counterparts. The EastMed project puts Israel on a collision course with Turkey which has laid claim, reinforced with a maritime deal with Libya, to large parts of the Eastern Mediterranean, where it is exploring for gas—and conducting naval exercises. These moves are exacerbating tensions with Greece.
Disputes over exploration rights and pipelines will add fuel to the heated rhetoric between the two countries. Turkish naval vessels harassed an Israeli research vessel near Cyprus last December, and Israel’s annual military assessment listed Turkey as a “challenge” for the first time last year. Egypt has its own claims to gas fields in the Eastern Mediterranean. Cyprus and Greece have already raised alarms over the Turkish-Libyan delineation of maritime rights, which intersects with the planned route for the EastMed pipeline.
For good measure, France’s President Emmanuel Macron has joined the issue, calling for European Union sanctions against Turkey over what he described as “violations” of the sovereignty of Cyprus and Greece. Israel’s main interest in the Mediterranean is to build on alliances with Greece and Cyprus that has grown over the past few decades. This dovetails with the interests of Egypt and France—which, along with the United Arab Emirates, are also anxious about Turkey’s military involvement in the Libyan civil war. Israeli-Greek military relations have deepened recently. Greece has signed a deal to lease Israeli drones, and Israeli Air Force jets have participated in a major Greek military exercise. Israeli-Greek military cooperation is a frequent topic of discussion at Israeli policy discussions and think-tanks. Israel is taking delivery of new Sa’ar 6 class corvettes and will eventually build new Reshef class combat vessels to protect its exclusive economic zone.
Russia has opened a natural-gas link to Turkey through the Turkstream pipeline, causing concern in Washington about Russian inroads into Europe, via Turkey.