Eastmed: Dream or Reality?

Huffington Post Greece – Mar. 20, 2019

With the launch of underwater exploration in the Eastern Mediterranean, Israel was one of the first countries to discover a number of rich natural gas fields. Gradually, other countries overlooking the Mediterranean began to intensify similar research. Thus, the region caught the eyes of the West because of the needs of the major European countries for energy and power. The investigations revealed more fields on the coasts of Cyprus, Turkey, Greece and Italy, but the tension between Greece and Turkey linked to the Cyprus issue directly affected the speed of mining and froze many projects in the eastern Mediterranean until reaching a solution. Last year, Tel Aviv announced that it will work with Greece, Cyprus and Italy to build a pipeline – Eastmed – for the transportation of natural gas from Israel to Europe. It was also stressed that at the end of March they would start working for this project effectively. But while Tel Aviv has been hoping to implement it, some doubts have arisen from the other partners for their own reasons, which may indicate that the project will die before it is born. Here we have to look at the details of this project by analyzing the views of all the countries involved.

In Cyprus, oil and gas companies are in full action in areas not contested by Turkey, particularly in the southern part of the island. As already known, American ExxonMobil recently discovered very large quantities of natural gas in plot 10 of the Cyprus EEZ. This positive development has made Eastmed project not a good idea for the Cypriot administration, since it can now build its own pipeline that will channel natural gas to Europe. While Russia is steadily moving the construction of the pipeline through Turkey, Cyprus realizes that the market is dramatically reduced as gas producers grow daily. Hence, the Cypriot administration sees as an appropriate solution the departure from Eastmed and the construction of its own pipeline. Of course, this plan may have a negative impact on the political issues of Cyprus. Tel Aviv is one of the most prominent supporters of Turkey against the solution of the Cyprus issue. A possible retreat of Nicosia to Eastmed is likely to push Tel Aviv to support the other side, Ankara. Let us not overlook its strong ties with Washington where it can play an important role in deterring US companies from continuing to work on Cypriot fields. As a result, the Cypriot government will face a difficult test in the next few days to support or reject the Israeli pipeline project.

And in Italy, the atmosphere is no longer the same as in the past. The current Italian government is coming day by day increasingly closer to Moscow on many issues, while putting its economic and diplomatic interests above everything else. On the basis of the above, I believe that the current Italian administration will not support Eastmed for a number of reasons. The first is not to face Russian rage since Moscow thinks this pipeline would be a blow to its interests. Secondly, Italy itself through its companies achieves high profits through the supply of Libyan gas to southern Europe while strengthening its relations with Turkey as Italian companies are increasingly cooperating with the Turkish administration to create a gas pipeline for Turkey -Europe that will be linked to the resolution of the Cyprus crisis. Therefore, we can conclude that Rome is no longer Tel Aviv’s partner in this project.

The freeze for unknown reasons,  of the exploration of Greek gas in the south and west of the country seems to mean that Greece is the only country still interested in Eastmed. This interest is linked to two points: (a) Athens is clearly trying to maintain its strong relations with Tel Aviv in order to have its support for the Cyprus file; (b) Tsipras’ government, preparing for parliamentary elections towards the end of this year, has a tremendous need for an economic achievement that can increase the hopes of the Greek people towards the improvement of the country’s economic situation. In the light of this perspective, Alexis Tsipras will have made a significant concession for something that would bring lower benefits – the Israeli pipeline – for purely personal reasons, not public interest. Given that relations between Athens and Moscow are marked by tensions after Alexis Tsipras chose to take part of Washington’s allies – Tel Aviv – this will also create problems with Cyprus.

At the next meeting in Brussels, the Eastmed dossier will be discussed. Most likely, the countries involved will end up accepting or rejecting it. The presence of Washington’s representatives means that there will be pressure from Tel Aviv on the one hand and on the other from representatives of European countries in need of natural gas to disengage from Russian dependence that has become a weapon of pressure that affects the decisions of the old continent. We conclude that the alliances that have recently emerged in the Eastern Mediterranean are at the threshold of changes that will significantly affect other issues, especially the Cyprus issue.