Known for his advocacy in normalizing ties with Ankara, Steinitz has become the first Israeli minister to visit Turkey since relations came to a halt in 2010 due to the Mavi Marmara crisis. He told reporters that he had agreed with Albayrak to “immediately establish dialogue between the two governments” to examine the project’s feasibility.
The project is about building a natural gas pipeline from Israel to Turkey in order to deliver natural gas to Turkey and Europe, in the event that necessary agreements could be provided between the two governments. Israel sees Turkey as a strong option for delivering its gas – produced from the Leviathan and Tamar offshore reserves to world markets among others – but the negotiations will surely be difficult.
Equally important is the fact that large gas reserves have also been discovered off Cyprus. Despite disagreements between Turkey and Greek Cyprus over demarcations of maritime economic exclusive zones in the Mediterranean, many believe that the possibility of marketing these reserves to Europe via Turkey could be a game changer in efforts to resolve the decades-old Cyprus problem.
Not only in terms of economic returns, but cooperation between Turkey, Israel and Cyprus on such a big project could introduce a new strategic triangle in the Eastern Mediterranean at a time when the wider region really needs action that can bring stability.
Needless to say, a precursor of such a prospect is determination from the Turkish andGreek Cypriots to complete talks for the reunification of the island. Along with the Cypriots, the contribution to be provided by three guarantor countries – Turkey, Greeceand the United Kingdom – as well as the European Union and the United States, will be vitally important to make these efforts a success.
Not only would securing a Turkey-Israel-Cyprus triangle serve the strategic needs of each country, but it would also give additional opportunities to major energy companies who would have a great interest in transporting natural gas to world markets through a to-be-built pipeline.
That is why U.S. Ambassador to Ankara John Bass’ statement that Washington supports the gas pipeline proposal is important. “Seeing the Israeli energy minister here today with the Turkish energy minister, talking about collaborative projects that will benefit both economies, is an indicator of how energy can help promote peace and stability. We strongly support achieving those objectives,” Bass told Turkey’s state-run Anadolu Agency on the sidelines of the World Energy Congress (WEC).
However, the U.S. support should not be limited to the Turkey-Israel part. The peace and stability of the entire Eastern Mediterranean requires the participation of a unified Cyprus. Any failure in the Cyprus talks has the potential to undermine Turkish-Israeli energy cooperation. This makes the unification of Europe’s last divided island even more important.