Ankara steps in after the US pulls out of the ambitious yet controversial Israel-Greece-Cyprus gas pipeline project.
Turkiye’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Tuesday said his government is open to talks on finding a way to transport Israeli gas from the Mediterranean Sea to Europe via Turkiye.
“We can still do that,” he told journalists on his way back from Albania, referring to a years-old proposal to sell gas from offshore Israeli fields to European buyers through a network of Turkish pipelines.
Erdogan’s comments follow reports that the United States is no longer backing the ambitious EastMed gas pipeline.
The 1,900 km-long EastMed pipeline never made it off the drawing board. It would have traversed along the bottom of the sea and across land, connecting Israel, Greece, and Cyprus.
But it sidestepped Turkiye, which has the longest coastline in the Mediterranean, and has shown willingness to be part of transnational energy projects.
“These are win-win types of projects for everyone. Turkiye can be part of any energy project in the region,” says Mehmet Dogan, who heads GazDay, an energy consultancy.
“[The] best option for such a project to work out is to bring Israeli gas to Turkiye, which can consume part of it domestically and ship some of it to Europe,” he tells TRT World.
Turkiye has long aimed to be an energy hub, hosting gas pipelines that meet the needs of European consumers.
Transnational pipelines from Russia to Azerbaijan use Turkish lands straddling the Asian continent and Europe.
The 1,850 km-long Trans-Anatolian pipeline known as TANAP, which runs through Turkiye, connects Azerbaijan to Europe. Dogan says it has spare capacity that can be used to ship Israeli gas.
A pipe dream from start
Experts had doubted if the EastMed pipeline was worth the investment and headache it had caused to diplomats.
The pipeline would have been the longest to run under water and it would have cost between $7 billion and $11 billion. A high project cost translates into higher gas bills for European consumers.
Conflicting claims over maritime boundaries in the Eastern Mediterranean between Turkiye and Greece required tedious and difficult negotiations for construction even to start.
Washington’s backing was crucial to wade through diplomatic and financial problems.
On January 10, a statement by the US embassy in Greece on “East Med Energy Cooperation” made no mention of the EastMed pipeline. It instead spoke about America’s support for electricity projects in the region.
In recent weeks, officials in the US President Joe Biden’s administration have conveyed similar messages to Israel, Greece and Cyprus.
With the US out of the picture and the EastMed pipeline shelved, there’s a good chance that Turkiye and Israel could seek rapprochement, as hinted by Erdogan, says Dr Oktay Tanrisever, an international relations professor at the Middle East Technical University in Ankara.
“Turkiye and Israel have been trying to normalise relations for some time. But differences over Eastern Mediterranean kept coming in their way,” he tells TRT World.
“With the latest US contribution to the story, the Israeli authorities now have room for manoeuvring. They can tell their Greek counterparts that they cannot be part of the project because the US is no longer supporting it. It lets Israel save face and allows it to shift priority to Turkiye from Greece.”
Turkiye’s relations with Israel were strained in the aftermath of the 2010 Gaza flotilla raid in which Israeli soldiers killed nine Turkish activists who were trying to ship aid to Palestinians.
But the two sides have maintained diplomatic and economic ties while avoiding any serious escalation.
In 2016, Ankara and Tel Aviv were in talks to build a pipeline to connect Israeli gas to Turkiye’s pipeline system for onward delivery to Europe.
The discovery of large gas reserves off the coast of Israel in the Mediterranean Sea has shaped Tel Aviv’s diplomatic ties in the region.
Some officials see Israeli gas as Europe’s answer to reducing dependency on Russia's natural gas imports.
The European Union meets 40 percent of its natural gas requirement with imports from Russia. However, differences over Ukraine and Crimea have raised concerns about the EU’s energy security.
The EastMed pipeline would have passed through a region which Turkiye claims as its own under a 2019 maritime deal with the UN-recognised Government of National Accord in Libya.