President Reuven Rivlin on Wednesday hailed the start of Israeli natural gas exports to Egypt from two offshore fields, telling Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi it could help deepen ties between the countries.
In a letter to Sissi, Rivlin called the flow of gas to Egypt from Israel “a day to celebrate” and said it was “linking our two countries and our two peoples.”
“The flow of gas brings with it benefits to our economies and deepens the connection between Egypt and Israel after over 40 years of peaceful relations,” he wrote.
Rivlin told Sissi that Israel’s diplomatic ties with Egypt were a “strategic asset,” helping bring regional stability and serving as a template for future relations between the Jewish state and other Middle Eastern countries.
He also praised the countries’ political and security cooperation and expressed hope for greater civilian ties.
“By looking for ways to connect our peoples, we can ensure that the values of peace that our courageous leaders bequeathed us in the historic peace treaty become part of today’s relations between the next generations of Israelis and Egyptians,” he said.
“Bringing the fruits of peace to our peoples would be the greatest tribute to their brave leadership and the best guarantee of a better, safer future for us all,” the president added.
The 1979 peace treaty established diplomatic relations between Israel and Egypt, making it the first Arab country to have formal ties with the Jewish state. Israel also established official relations with Jordan in 1994.
While security coordination between Jerusalem and Cairo is known to be close, the ties are still unpopular in Egypt, despite over four decades of peace.
The start of the gas exports Wednesday came shortly after natural gas started flowing from the massive Leviathan field, and some seven years after Israel starting pumping gas from the nearby Tamar field.
Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz last month signed permits for the export of gas to Egypt, calling it “a historic milestone for the State of Israel.”
On Wednesday, Steinitz heralded “the start of the most significant cooperation ever between Israel and Egypt, in energy and the economy, since the peace treaty.”
Jerusalem’s and Cairo’s energy ministries issued the rare joint statement on Wednesday morning, calling the move “an important development that will serve the economic interests of both sides.”
Steinitz was in Egypt Wednesday to formally announce the move alongside Egyptian Petroleum Minister Tarek El-Molla at a meeting of the Eastern Mediterranean Gas Forum (EMGF).
During the meeting, the energy ministers of Israel, Egypt, Italy, Greece, Cyprus, Jordan and the Palestinian Authority approved turning the EMGF into a regional organization.
Israel’s delegation has been working with the other countries to put together the EMGF’s treaty, which the ministers will sign, the statement said, “in what will be another significant step on the path to consolidating the organization and its activities.”
In the October deal, the partners in the Israeli fields signed a contract with the privately held Egyptian firm Dolphinus Holdings to transfer some 85 billion cubic meters (3 trillion cubic feet), to be supplied by both the Tamar and the Leviathan fields starting in 2020.
One source in Israel’s energy industry estimated the value of the gas to be sold to Egypt under the updated contract at a total value of $19.5 billion, Reuters reported.
Gas began flowing from the mammoth Leviathan offshore natural gas field — the largest energy project in Israel’s history — on December 31, after the government gave a final go-ahead to Noble Energy and its partners to forge ahead with the project despite vocal protests from residents of Israel’s coastal region who are concerned about the pollution emitted by the rigs.
Leviathan and Tamar, along with the smaller Karish and Tanin fields that are set to start production in 2021, are seen as a bonanza for a nation that has traditionally been starved of natural resources. They also provide a stable source of locally produced energy from four different fields, leading to a more secure supply that is enough to feed all of Israel’s electricity needs for decades.