Egyptian President Abdel Fatteh El-Sisi has arrived in Athens for three days of talks with Greek Prime Minister Alex Tsipras on a plan for establishing the first ever Mediterranean consortium for the joint exploitation of Israeli, Egyptian and Cypriot off-shore gas wells. debkafile’s Middle East sources disclose in an exclusive report.
Tuesday, Dec. 8, when Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu defended his government’s handling of Israel’s offshore gas bonanza in a briefing to the Knesset Economy Committee, he faced a barrage of opposition criticism, much of which focused on unfounded claims that Egypt had dropped out of a deal for the purchase of Israeli gas.
The consortium, in advanced negotiation between the Egyptian president, Greek Prime Minister Alexs Tsipras and Binyamin Netanyahu, is designed for two goals. which are to satisfy the gas requirements of Greece, Cyprus, Israel, Jordan, Egypt and the Palestinian Authority, and to export the remainder to Europe.
The three parties are studying three alternative plans:
1. Transfer the Mediterranean gas to Greece and then pipeline it to Europe: Greek Prime Minister Tsipras raised this option with Netanyahu during his unexpected visit to Jerusalem on Nov. 26. He proposed linking the Israeli gas fields, especially the largest Leviathan well, with the Cypriot offshore Aphrodite gas field and Egypt’s Zohr Mediterranean field, and so make it possible to transfer the gas to Greece and from there to Europe. Tsipras maintained that the European Union, of which Greece is a member, would consider taking part in the construction of the new pipeline networks together with the gas terminals necessary for exporting it.
2. Transfer the gas of all three countries via Turkey.
3. Build a pipeline from the Israeli oil port city of Ashkelon to Egypt. Western Egypt has two giant gas-processing facilities on its Mediterranean coast, one owned by British Gas and the other by Spain’s Union Fenosa Gas. They could transform the gas to LNG for shipping by tanker to Europe.
In his briefing to the Knesset committee, Netanyahu maintained, “The bottom line is that I see the supply of gas as the basis for protecting (Israel’s) national security, and we need to be strong in order to gain alliances and make peace.”
In Athens, the Egyptian President echoed those sentiments when he said: “More cooperation is needed in these difficult times and in this sensitive area. Such cooperation could be in the exploitation of mineral resources, it could be an economic cooperation and even a military cooperation,” he said.
In other words, joint exploitation of the Mediterranean gas fields will enable the countries of the region to confront the security challenges that they face, as well as facilitate economic cooperation and joint military efforts to protect the gas fields and pipelines.
debkafile’s sources report that El-Sisi, Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades and the Israeli and Greek prime ministers are planning a summit meeting in the coming days to bring forward and seal a deal for the economic consolidation of the Egyptian, Israeli and Cypriot gas fields and the means for exporting the gas.
Despite the arguments put forward against the government’s handling of the gas issue by Knesset members, including opposition leader Yitzhak Herzog and loudest opponent of the gas deal, his fellow party member Shelly Yachimovich, the key facts are indisputable.
Their party, the “Zionist Union”, constantly advocates a quest for peace based on regional alliances. Yet when an important regional alliance becomes feasible, on the basis of cooperation in the exploitation of Mediterranean gas, its leaders try and shout it down. They are even proposing to endlessly delay the entire project by petitions to Israel’s Supreme Court. This step would make one of Israel’s leading political parties guilty of frustrating one of the most important and productive political and security-related developments Israel has attained in recent years.