Bennett, Lapid discuss energy ‘opportunities’ with German vice chancellor

Europe’s largest economy has been reluctant to ban Russian oil before finding suitable alternatives, and is reportedly eyeing Israel’s Leviathan gas field

Tobias (Toby) Siegal is a breaking news editor and contributor to The Times of Israel.

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, right, and Vice Chancellor of Germany Robert Habeck meet in Jerusalem on June 6, 2022. (GPO/Kobi Gideon)
Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, right, and Vice Chancellor of Germany Robert Habeck meet in Jerusalem on June 6, 2022. (GPO/Kobi Gideon)

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett met with Vice Chancellor of Germany Robert Habeck on Monday and discussed possible ways of strengthening bilateral relations between the countries.

“It was a very good meeting,” Bennett later said. “We discussed ways of strengthening the Israel-Germany relations, with an emphasis on collaborations in the fields of energy, climate, and economy.”

Habeck, who also serves as Germany’s minister of economic affairs and climate action, is on a four-day tour of Israel, the West Bank, and Jordan.

His schedule includes a visit to Yad Vashem, where he will meet the Holocaust memorial’s chairman, Dani Dayan. In Jordan, he is scheduled to co-chair a conference dealing with climate and energy, with representatives from European, African, and Arab countries.

According to local German reports, one main focus of Habeck’s visit to Israel, which is not on the official agenda, is the attempt to secure alternative energy supplies in the wake of the Russian invasion of Ukraine and the energy shortages the war and the subsequent sanctions on Moscow have created for many countries.

Israel’s Leviathan gas field currently produces 12 billion cubic meters of natural gas annually, most of which is used for Israel’s domestic needs. The idea of partnering with other regional players for establishing a pipeline that would connect the Leviathan field to other countries, including in Europe, has been discussed before, including with Cyprus and Greece, and more recently with Turkey, which has expressed a desire to revive such a project after years of enmity with the Jewish state.

Prior to his meeting with Bennett, the senior German official met with Foreign Minister Yair Lapid and discussed “regional projects between Israel and its partners in the Middle East,” Lapid said in a tweet.

“The governments of Israel and Germany have a shared responsibility for developing and promoting the special relations between the countries. The visit of Germany’s Vice Chancellor Habeck represents the continuity of our ties and their growth into new plains. I enjoyed talking with the vice chancellor about regional opportunities, especially in energy,” Lapid added.

According to German news outlet Deutsche Welle, Russian gas accounts for approximately 155 billion cubic meters of Europe’s annual demand. In order for the Leviathan field to be a viable option for Europe’s demands and significantly lower its dependency on Russia, it would require Israel’s rig to double its production, according to the report.

Germany has been reluctant to ban Russian energy as a response to Moscow’s regional aggression. An immediate end to Russian energy imports would send Germany into “sharp recession” next year, the country’s leading economic institutes have said in a forecast.

Israel’s offshore Leviathan gas platform. (Albatross)

Europe’s largest economy could yet suffer a “setback” at the end of 2023 into 2024, as demand for energy rises in the European winter, before “gradually” returning to growth.

The country has set about weaning itself off Russian energy imports, accelerating investments in renewables, and building LNG (liquefied natural gas) terminals on the North Sea coast to import gas from further afield, though they would take years to come online.

Habeck said at the end of March that it would likely take until mid-2024 for Germany to wean itself off Russian deliveries.

AFP contributed to this report. 

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