Netanyahu discusses energy ties with Cypriot and Greek leaders

Praising regional cooperation on visit to Nicosia, PM raises possibility of purchasing a shared firefighter aircraft with allies, pitches fiber optic cable project

Carrie Keller-Lynn is a former political and legal correspondent for The Times of Israel

Cypriot President Nikos Christodoulides, left, greets Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Nicosia, Cyprus, September 3, 2023. (Amos Ben Gershom/ GPO)
Cypriot President Nikos Christodoulides, left, greets Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Nicosia, Cyprus, September 3, 2023. (Amos Ben Gershom/ GPO)

NICOSIA, Cyprus — Stalled plans to transport Israel’s natural gas production across the Mediterranean to Europe were front and center on Sunday when Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met with his Cypriot and Greek counterparts.

Netanyahu arrived in Nicosia on Sunday afternoon as part of a two-day trip to meet with Cyprus’s President Nikos Christodoulides and Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis of Greece, the latest in a series of trilateral summits begun in 2016.

The two countries are in drawn-out discussions for a solution to transport Israeli natural gas to Europe, through Cyprus. One option, the Eastern Mediterranean pipeline, would pipe natural gas from Israeli offshore production, through Cyprus, and on to Greece. A second leading option would shorten the pipeline from Israel to a liquification terminal in Cyprus, from which it would be shipped onward to Europe.

While Netanyahu met with Christodoulides, Energy Minister Israel Katz held separate talks with Turkish and Egyptian counterparts, as well as the US envoy on regional normalization efforts, Dan Shapiro, regarding gas exports in the eastern Mediterranean.

The talks with Egyptian Petroleum Minister Tarek el-Molla and Turkish Energy Minister Alparslan Bayraktar seemed part of an apparent two-pronged strategy aimed at navigating the choppy waters between rivals Cyprus and Turkey.

Bayraktar said the talks with Katz were productive and he will visit Israel as soon as he can.

An Israeli Navy Sa’ar 6-class corvette guards the Energean floating production, storage and offloading vessel at the Karish gas field, in an image published by the military on April 23, 2023. (Israel Defense Forces)

Katz said the talks are “a continuation of my talks with the Greek and Cypriot energy ministers.”

He called Israel’s offshore gas riches “the key to regional deals,” possibly hinting at the source of Shapiro’s involvement. The former US ambassador is now the Biden administration’s point man on expanding the 2020 Abraham Accords, which normalized relations between Israel and the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, and Morocco. The Biden administration is now making efforts to establish official ties between Israel and Saudi Arabia.

“Our gas, technologies, and renewable energies are at the center of regional interest,” Katz wrote in a post on X. “Gas export policies reflect and leverage our strengths.”

Netanyahu and Christodoulides said that in addition to energy, they discussed infrastructure, tourism, and counterterrorism cooperation during their bilateral meeting in Nicosia today.

The prime minister floated the idea of building infrastructure projects such as a fiber optic cable linking countries in Asia and the Arabian Peninsula with Europe through Israel and Cyprus. Netanyahu said he was “quite confident” such an infrastructure “corridor” linking Asia to Europe through Israel and Cyprus is feasible.

He said such projects could happen if Israel normalizes relations with other countries in the region.

“An example and the most obvious one is a fiber optic connection. That’s the shortest route. It’s the safest route. It’s the most economic route,” Netanyahu said in remarks to reporters alongside Christodoulides after their bilateral meeting.

Netanyahu also said the leaders also discussed an energy connector line that could also link up “possibly to countries to our east,” meaning Arab states and reiterated that he and Christodoulides were looking to follow through on plans for a 2,000-megawatt undersea electricity cable known as the EurAsia Interconnector connecting Israel with Cyprus and Greece that aims to act as an energy supply back-up for both Israel and Cyprus.

Cypriot President Nikos Christodoulides, left, walks with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Nicosia, Cyprus, September 3, 2023. (Amos Ben Gershom/ GPO)

Christodoulides expressed enthusiasm for Cyprus taking a role in relationships expanded through the Abraham Accords, saying that his country “has a strong interest to act as a gateway with like-minded partners.”

Netanyahu also raised the possibility of Israel, Cyprus, and Greece jointly purchasing a supertanker firefighting airplane for the countries to use in case of widespread fires, according to a source in the Prime Minister’s Office.

In his remarks, the prime minister also praised Cyprus for thwarting a terror attack, believed to have been planned with Iranian backing, against Israeli and Jewish targets in Cyprus this summer.

Netanyahu thanked Nicosia for the joint cooperation on security and defense matters and “for the wonderful work of the security services of Cyprus to foil an attempted attack against Israelis on Cypriot soil.”

The prime minister, traveling with his wife, retired on Sunday evening to the seaside town of Limassol to spend the night, before returning to Nicosia Monday for additional meetings with Christodoulides and the Greek prime minister.

Sara Netanyahu and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu arrive in Nicosia, Cyprus, on September 3, 2023. (Amos Ben Gershom/ GPO)

Since 2016 such meetings between the leaders of the three countries have become a staple of what they said are burgeoning ties that Netanyahu described as “a deep friendship, both personal, but also between our nations” that is “real” and “long overdue.”

Foreign Minister Eli Cohen was also abroad on a diplomatic trip on Sunday, landing on Sunday afternoon at Manama’s Bahrain International Airport for his first state visit to an Abraham Accords country.

AP contributed to this report.

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