Israel, Cyprus, and Greece push East Med gas pipeline to Europe

Prime Minister hails growing trilateral ties as leaders push ahead with project that could feed 20 billion cubic meters of natural gas to a growing European market.

The leaders of Cyprus, Israel, and Greece on Tuesday agreed to push ahead with an envisioned pipeline that will supply east Mediterranean gas to Europe as the continent seeks to diversify its energy supply.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called the East Med pipeline a “very serious endeavor” that’s important for Europe, which is looking for new sources of energy.

Netanyahu also hailed the growing ties between Israel, Cyprus, and Greece as building “an alliance for good” through joint trade, tourism, and health endeavors.

“We are building a great alliance, an alliance for good among our three democracies,” Netanyahu said. He called it “almost inconceivable that our countries did not have this warm, intimate, and direct contact” in past years.

After the meeting Tuesday, Cyprus President Nicos Anastasiades said the three countries aimed to sign an agreement within this year to nudge the pipeline project forward.

Greece’s Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras called the project “emblematic” of the cooperation between the three countries.

The proposed EastMed Pipeline Project would start about 170 kilometers (105 miles) off Cyprus’s southern coast and stretch for 2,200 kilometers (1,350 miles) to reach Otranto, Italy, via Crete and the Greek mainland.

The so-called EastMed Pipeline Project will have the capacity to carry up to 20 billion cubic meters (706 billion cubic feet) of gas yearly. Europe’s gas import needs are projected to increase by 100 billion cubic meters (3.5 billion cubic feet) annually by 2030.

In December, Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz said a study on the EastMed Pipeline Project showed that the link is feasible, even though it presents technical challenges due to the depths involved. He told The Associated Press the estimated 6.2 billion euro ($7.36 billion) pipeline could take 6-7 years to build and that the countries involved “are serious about it.”

The leaders on Tuesday also reaffirmed their backing for planned undersea electricity and fiber optic cables that will link the three countries.

Work on the EuroAsia Interconnector project — a 1,520-kilometer (945-mile) undersea electric cable with a 2,000-megawatt capacity– is expected to begin in 2018 pending approval from regulators.

Once frosty, Israel’s ties with Greece and Cyprus have markedly improved in recent years, coinciding with a spat between Israel and regional rival Turkey.

The three countries now hold frequent joint military and civil protection exercises, including a planned joint air force drill that will include Cyprus, Israel, Egypt, and other European countries as part of efforts to bolster stability in the eastern Mediterranean.