The leaders of Greece, Israel and Cyprus were set to meet in Athens Thursday to sign a deal for an undersea pipeline that would carry gas from new offshore deposits in the southeastern Mediterranean to continental Europe.
The 1,900-kilometer (1,300-mile) EastMed pipeline is intended to provide an alternative gas source for energy-hungry Europe, which is currently largely dependent on supplies from Russia and the Caucasus region.
As now designed, the pipeline would run from Israel’s Levantine Basin offshore gas reserves to Cyprus, Crete and the Greek mainland. An overland pipeline to northwestern Greece and another planned undersea pipeline would carry the gas to Italy.
The project, with a rough budget of $6 billion, is expected to satisfy about 10 percent of the European Union’s natural gas needs. But it also is fraught with political and logistical complexities.
The race to claim offshore energy deposits in the southern Mediterranean has created new tensions between Greece and Cyprus, on the one side, and historic rival Turkey.
Ankara has raised the stakes with recent moves to explore waters controlled by the two EU member countries. Cyprus and Greece are particularly disturbed Turkey sent warship-escorted drill ships into waters where Cyprus has exclusive economic rights.
Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades said the EastMed pipeline, while not aimed against Turkey, affirms that Greece and Cyprus hold sovereign rights to the waters they control.
Anastasiades, Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu were to meet in Athens to sign an agreement on building the pipeline.
Before departing for the Greek capital, Netanyahu said the three countries have established ”an alliance of great importance” that would bolster regional stability and turn Israel ”into an energy powerhouse.”
Israeli Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz has said the EastMed pipeline would take up to seven years to build and that its advantages include being less vulnerable to sabotage and not crossing many national borders to reach markets.
Anastasiades said in an New Year’s Day interview with Cyprus’ Phileleftheros newspaper that the construction agreement’s signing “sends messages in every direction.”
“Especially under current conditions, it demonstrates the strong political will of the countries involved, as well as the European Union, that they don’t accept Turkey’s unlawful actions,” Anastasiades said.
Cyprus is divided into a Greek Cypriot south, where the island nation’s internationally recognized government is located, and a breakaway Turkish-occupied north backed by Turkey. The split followed a 1974 Turkish invasion after an aborted coup aiming to bring Cyprus under Greek rule.
Turkey is also laying claim to large tracts under Greek control in the Aegean Sea and off the Greek island of Crete. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has said that no project can proceed without his country’s consent following a maritime border agreement that Ankara signed with the Libya’s Tripoli-based government.
The Cypriot government has licensed Italian energy company Eni, France’s Total, ExxonMobil and Texas-based Noble Energy to carry out exploratory hydrocarbons drilling in the country’s offshore economic zone.