Turkey dreams of an improbable gas pipeline with Israel

Turkey is dreaming of a gas pipeline linking it to Israel to export Israeli gas to Europe and hopes to revive the project thanks to the war between Ukraine and Russia, which is weighing on energy supplies. But such a project, with its complex and costly logistics, seems difficult to achieve in the eyes of the experts. Israeli President Isaac Herzog’s visit in March to Ankara and Istanbul to renew ties with his counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan opened a new era in their relations, according to both officials, after a decade of tensions.

Turkey wants to cooperate with Israel

The Turkish head of state said he was “ready to cooperate with Israel on energy and energy security”, with the idea of transporting Israeli gas to Europe via Turkey, while the war in Ukraine threatens Europe with shortages. “Turkey has the experience and capacity to implement these projects,” said the head of state. Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu will visit Israel on Wednesday. Energy Minister Fatih Dönmez will probably accompany him. But the Turkish authorities have not yet confirmed this.

At this stage, however, Turkish enthusiasm is not shared on the Israeli side. “The prevailing feeling is that in matters of energy, countries must trust each other. This is not what characterizes the dynamic between the two countries,” notes Gabi Mitchell, an associate at the Mitvim Institute who specializes in Israel’s regional politics. “For some, Erdogan is not a reliable partner,” he adds. In 2009, he walked out of a Davos roundtable after a tense exchange with then-Israeli President Shimon Peres over the Palestinians. Then in 2010, ten civilians were killed by an Israeli raid on a Turkish ship that was attempting to deliver aid to the Gaza Strip, which is under Israeli blockade.

“Complicated and expensive.”

But Erdogan recently silenced his critics and expressed only “sadness” at the clashes on the Mosque Esplanade in April. In 2016, the two countries had agreed to study the feasibility of a subsea gas pipeline to Turkey and Europe. Since then the project has not progressed. “I never thought the project was feasible,” says Aaron Stein, director of the Middle East program at the Foreign Policy Research Institute in Washington. “The idea comes up every time there is a rapprochement between the two countries, but the logistics of turning the dream into reality are complicated and costly,” he adds.

An undersea gas pipeline from Israel to Turkey would cost $1.5 billion, according to some studies. The Turkish option reappeared after the United States abandoned the EastMed gas pipeline project in the eastern Mediterranean aimed at transporting Israeli gas to Europe via Cyprus and Greece, excluding Turkey. Despite the difficulties, Ankara believes that the new pipeline plan is more feasible. “It is difficult but reasonable and, above all, feasible in comparison to EastMed,” says a Turkish official, speaking on condition of anonymity.

New contracts needed

Turkey is closely dependent on Russia for its energy supplies and is seeking to diversify sources. “A gas pipeline through southern Turkey makes sense,” says Necdet Pamir, an energy expert at Cyprus International University. Turkey consumed 48 billion cubic meters of gas in 2020 and 60 billion in 2021 and is expected to reach 62 to 63 billion this year, he added. Last year, 45% of the gas consumed in Turkey came from Russia, the rest from Iran and Azerbaijan, supplemented by liquefied natural gas (LNG) from Qatar, Nigeria, Algeria and the US.

“We need alternative sources of supply,” Pamir insists. However, the gas pipeline project with Israel would cross the eastern Mediterranean where Turkey, Cyprus and Greece, members of the European Union, are often at odds. For this reason, “the project does not interest Israel because it could harm its relations” with these two countries and the EU, says Gabi Mitchell. At this stage, onshore LNG terminals seem more realistic, “financially they make more sense”, says Mr Stein. “And politically, it’s easier.”

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