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Could Israel Be the Solution for the EU’s Gas Thirst? by Dávid Nagy

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Could Israel Be the Solution for the EU’s Gas Thirst?

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Europe’s desperate need for new energy suppliers could valorise Israel’s position as a gas exporter to the EU, which in turn would also help Jerusalem build its diplomatic capital. But if the EU wants to improve its relations with Israel for the sake of its energy security, it should, as a minimum, reconsider its approach to Iran and the Palestinians

Turning Gas into Political Capital

On 15 June, EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen announced a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with Egypt and Israel enabling the export of Israeli gas to the EU to alleviate the European Union’s heavy dependency on Russian energy. The deal was signed by EU Commissioner for Energy Kadri Simson, who called the MoU ‘historic.’ In fact, this is the first direct agreement between Brussels and the Jewish state allowing significant exports of Israeli gas to the EU.

Israeli gas will be brought via a pipeline to Egypt’s LNG terminal on the Mediterranean, where it will be liquefied and re-exported as LNG carried by tankers to European shores. The agreement is going to give a push to Jerusalem to continue its gas exploration in the Karish gas field located in the Eastern Mediterranean. The total quantity of natural gas produced by Israel and Egypt for export may reach 20 billion cubic metres, which seems a drop in the bucket at the first sight, but not a bad start for the EU scrambling to find its new gas suppliers.

Such joint projects between the EU (or its members) and Israel are not without precedent

Such joint projects between the EU (or its members) and Israel are not without precedent, indicating growing rapprochement between Brussels and Jerusalem. Earlier this year, the European Union earmarked 657 million euros ($736 million) for the construction of a 2,000-megawatt undersea electricity cable, the deepest and longest ever built, that will link the power grids of Israel, Cyprus and Greece. In 2020, Greece, Cyprus and Israel signed a deal to build a 1,900 km subsea pipeline to carry natural gas from the Eastern Mediterranean which, although it will take up to seven years to build, will satisfy about 10 per cent of the EU’s natural gas needs.

Israel has emerged as a gas exporter in recent years following major offshore gas field discoveries in 2009 and 2010. After reaching domestic independence, Israel decided to turn its gas export capacity into foreign policy capital and use it to ease its isolation in the region. In 2016, Israel signed a landmark $10 billion, 15-year gas export deal with Jordan and a $15 billion deal with Egypt in 2018. The deals helped Israel to improve its previously chilly relations with the two countries.

Now Israel could easily apply the same playbook as the EU is turning its attention to the Eastern Mediterranean. While Europe desperately needs new partners to get rid of the toxic Russian sources, by becoming an energy exporter, Israel could reduce its isolation and thaw icy relations with the EU – something that is more valuable for Jerusalem than sheer profit. And such agreements as the recent MoU, which put Israel on the EU’s energy map, are certainly contributing to Israel being seen as an important partner.

Inconsonant Foreign Policy

Current events do not just seem to be a win-win situation for both Israel and the EU, but it is also an opportunity for the latter to finally leave behind its decades-long inconsonant foreign policy and “biased neutrality” when it comes to Israel.

At the end of June, European High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs, Josep Borrel visited Tehran to revive stalled negotiations over the Iran nuclear deal. That was nothing unusual per se. Since US President Joe Biden sought a return to the US-Iran Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), the two sides negotiated indirectly through the European Union coordinator. Borrel’s trip to Iran provoked outrage in Israel.

The visit occurred days after Turkish authorities announced that they arrested Iranians suspected of planning attacks on Israeli tourists and business people in the country. Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid (now Prime Minister) lashed out at the EU foreign policy chief for disregarding Iran’s malignant activity and accused him of not caring for the lives of Israeli citizens.

The EU’s approach to Iran, including the promotion of the revival of the JCPOA, causes serious concerns in Israel, which is facing violent acts of Iranian-backed terrorist groups along its north-eastern border and Gaza every day. Israel sees nuclear talks as a distraction and procrastination used by Tehran to continue its regional destabilization activity and boost its uranium enrichment to make a nuclear bomb. This view is increasingly shared by many in Europe, too.

It may be not only a direct threat to Israel’s security today, but could become a global threat tomorrow

According to the International Atomic Energy Agency, Iran has now accumulated over 40 kilos of highly enriched uranium – enough to produce at least one nuclear bomb; it switched off IAEA cameras at its nuclear sites in June; and it recently started enriching uranium at its underground facility Fordow, which it had promised would only be used for peaceful purposes. Iran also helps Russia to circumvent sanctions and according to U.S. officials, is planning to supply Moscow with killer drones as well. But while the EU is fervently trying to save the JCPOA, it turns a blind eye to Iran’s assertive activities – which may be not only a direct threat to Israel’s security today, but could become a global threat tomorrow.

But the EU’s “biased neutrality” is also visible when it comes to the Palestinian Authority (PA). The EU is a dedicated supporter of the two-state solution–the holy cow of the West regarding Israeli-Palestine relations – and tries to pose as a neutral international player in this matter. However, this neutrality does not prevent it from regularly and unilaterally condemning Israel on various issues, although such statements have been recently blocked on several occasions by Eastern European countries, including Hungary, who tend to follow a more sensible approach to Israel.

The European Union is also one of the main donors of the Palestinian Authority. Only in 2021, Brussels provided €317 million in the form of financial aid, however–thanks to Hungary’s lobbying –this is the first year that part of these grants have become subject to conditions such as reforms in the PA’s school textbooks. PA textbooks have long been a subject of controversy, as they apparently delegitimize Israel’s existence, demonize Jews, and glorify terrorism – certainly something that the EU should not support by any means.

‘You can’t dance at two weddings with one behind’ – says the old Yiddish proverb. And it is exactly what the EU should finally come to terms with. If Brussels wants to warm its ties to Jerusalem for the sake of its energy security, it should, as a minimum, reconsider its approach to Iran and the Palestinian Authority and not turn a blind eye to their adverse activities threatening Israel’s security.

Dávid Nagy, political analyst