Israel plans to construct the world’s longest underwater gas pipeline together with Cyprus and Greece to carry Eastern Mediterranean gas on to Italy and the EU southern states. US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has just endorsed the project. It will run smack up against a competing Turkish-Russian gas pipeline, Turk Stream, against a potential Qatari-Iran-Syria pipeline, as well as de facto undercut the Washington attempt to get more US LNG gas to the EU to reduce Russian dependency.
The project, under discussion for several years since Israel discovered major gas reserves in the offshore Leviathan Field, is known as the East Med Pipeline Project. Natural gas will flow from Leviathan via Cyprus, Crete and Greece to reach its terminal at Otranto on the southeast heel of Italy. Plans call for a pipeline of 2,100 kilometers running three kilometers deep under the Mediterranean. Cost is estimated at $7 billion with a five year construction period.
New Fault Lines
The East Med is part of a complex of new geopolitical fault lines across the entire Middle East. Notable is the fact that the Gulf Arab Emirate, UAE, has already invested $100 million in a project the Jerusalem Post calls, “a covert cornerstone underpinning the change in relationship between parts of the Arab world and the Jewish State.” This would seem to be a reference to the 2017 proposal of the US to create an “Arab NATO” with Saudi Arabia and other Gulf Arab states, backed by Israeli intelligence input, to counter the influence of Iran in the region. Little is said today about any Arab NATO, but ties between Netanyahu’s Israel and key Sunni Muslim Arab countries remain strong.
One regional player definitely not happy about the proposed Israeli East Med pipeline is Erdogan’s Turkey. When Israel first proposed East Med two years ago, Erdogan quickly turned to Russia to sign a deal to build the Gazprom’s Turk Stream to rival Israel. East Med would tie into gas fields in the Greek EU part of Cyprus. In recent months Erdogan has moved Turkey closer to Iran and especially Qatar, home to key figures in the Muslim Brotherhood, as tensions with Saudi Arabia and Israel increase. The Sunni vs Shi’ite conflict seems to take a back seat to geopolitical power and control of pipelines.