PM: Decision on route for exporting natural gas to Europe expected in ‘3-6 months’

Netanyahu meets with Cypriot and Greek counterparts in Nicosia, whose government wants Israel to pump gas to a terminal in Cyprus where it would be liquified for shipment onward

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

Left to right: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Cypriot President Nikos Christodoulides and Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis at Nicosia’s Presidential Palace, Cyprus, September 4, 2023 (PMO)
Left to right: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Cypriot President Nikos Christodoulides and Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis at Nicosia’s Presidential Palace, Cyprus, September 4, 2023 (PMO)

NICOSIA, Cyprus — Israel is inching closer to finalizing plans for exporting natural gas to Europe, with a decision on transportation route expected within the next three to six months, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Monday after meeting with his Greek and Cypriot counterparts.

Nicosia has pressed Israel to come to a deal and Netanyahu said the Greeks and Cypriots favor a shortened pipeline that would pump gas from Israel to a liquefaction terminal in Cyprus, from where it would then be shipped onward to Europe.

The proposed terminal is an alternative to the American-backed Eastern Mediterranean pipeline, which would send gas from Israel to Cyprus and then to Greece.

Israel is also still actively considering a pipeline to Turkey and has considered building its own floating liquefaction facility.

Speaking alongside Netanyahu and Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis at a joint press conference, Cypriot President Nikos Christodoulides said “our partnership is not exclusive or directed against any other country,” in an apparent reference to Turkey.

Netanyahu later told reporters that he reassured Cyprus and Greece that “what happens between us and Turkey wouldn’t hurt them.”

Cypriot and Greek relations with Turkey have long been strained, and continue to carry the scars of Turkey’s 1974 invasion of Cyprus, during which it occupied nearly half of the small island. Rebuffing Greek-speaking Cypriots’ dreams of unification, Turkey supports a separate government on the northern half of the island, which is not recognized as its own state by any country other than Turkey.

Israel and Turkey patched up their own ties in 2022, after years of tension and Ankara twice recalling its ambassadors from Tel Aviv.

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)

Netanyahu, Christodoulides, Mitsotakis and met over the past two days in the Cypriot capital of Nicosia, the ninth trilateral meeting in a series established in 2016.

In addition to natural gas exports, the leaders discussed plans to connect Israel to the planned EuroAsia Interconnector power line.

In his remarks to the press, Netanyahu said “we are moving forward with the electric cable” and that “Israel will stop being an island and be part of the global electric system.”

Netanyahu also said that infrastructure projects could be further expanded to create a Mediterranean-Asian corridor, should ongoing normalization efforts with Saudis Arabia bear fruit.

“There is the possibility that we might have the expansion of the Abraham Accords with normalization to Saudi Arabia,” the prime minister said.

“It may lead to a connection between India, the Arabian peninsula, Israel, Cyprus and Greece,” he added. “I think we all see eye to eye on that.”

The most likely infrastructure project, Netanyahu said, would be a fiber optic cable running the Eurasian corridor.

Mitsotakis said Greece is especially interested in partnerships with countries such as India, which may even be invited to the next trilateral summit, expected next year.

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

Meanwhile, Netanyahu said he raised the possibility of developing artificial intelligence technology for early detection of wildfires. Israel, Greece, and Cyprus have faced brutal fires during their hot, dry summers and coordinate firefighting efforts with each other.

“We are already talking to Israel about AI-based solutions that will offer us early detection capabilities,” said Mitsotakis.

Netanyahu also touched on opening the tightly controlled Israeli domestic food market to imports.

“We are going to soon open our dairy products market, which is long overdue,” Netanyahu said, noting that Greek and Cypriot products are often cheaper than their Israeli substitutes.

“May the best yogurt win.”

The prime minister, who is set to return to Israel on Monday evening, said to reporters that Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich is on board and that the change can be expected in the coming months.

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