Cypriot Energy Minister Georgios Lakkotrypis, front left, Greek Energy Minister Kostis Hatzidakis, front center, and Israel's Minister of Energy and Water Yuval Steinitz sign an agreement as Greece’s Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis, rear center, Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiadis, rear left, and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu look on, in Athens, Thursday.
The intergovernmental agreement signed on Thursday by Greece, Israel and Cyprus for the construction of the EastMed pipeline sent out multiple diplomatic messages.
The first of these relates to the endurance of the trilateral cooperation itself. In the 10 years since its inception, Cyprus President Nicos Anastasiades and the prime ministers of Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu, and Greece, Kyriakos Mitsotakis, confirmed that the relationship between the three countries is not circumstantial.
Skepticism concerning the situation in Jerusalem after three consecutive national elections which will have been held by March is reasonable. However, it will be very difficult for any Israeli government to roll back years of planning.
The second message concerns Turkey, as the pipeline will link Israel’s reserves with Cyprus, then Crete and mainland Greece through an area that Ankara says belongs to Turkey, according to the pact it signed with Libya’s Tripoli-based government. The EastMed agreement is essentially a legal act stemming from international law as it expresses the will of three sovereign and elected governments (in contrast to that in Tripoli) to deepen their cooperation.
At the same time it is a message of cooperation which leaves the door open for Ankara to take part if it decides so.
However, signs Thursday were not encouraging as a pair of Turkish F-16s fighter jets made six overflights over Oinousses and the nearby island of Panagia, while the presence of the Turkish fleet around Cyprus remains emphatic.
Moreover, the Turkish Parliament decided on Thursday to approve the deployment of troops to Libya, if deemed necessary. A Turkish Foreign Ministry spokesman said any project that ignores the rights of Turkey and Turkish Cypriots in the region will fail, while Turkish-Cypriot leader Mustafa Akinci said the pipeline is an obstacle to efforts for a solution to the Cyprus problem.
The third message is to countries such as Italy and Egypt. With the signing of the deal, Athens, Nicosia and Jerusalem showed they were not willing to wait for the perfect conditions to prevail before moving ahead.
Next month Rome will have to sign the agreement for the final stretch of the pipeline to Italy while Cairo is beginning to realize that conditions are ripening for the construction of a pipeline that could be used to export Egyptian reserves.
The fourth message, which should not be underestimated, is that of confidence regarding the technical and technological competence for such a demanding project. Tellingly, the construction of the first section from the Karish North deposit within Israel’s exclusive economic zone to Vasilikos in Cyprus could be ready as early as 2021, regardless of consultations with other stakeholders involved with EastMed.
Energean International has told the Cypriot government that it could build a 215-kilometer pipeline by 2021 to import and supply natural gas to Cyprus.
In short, if political support for the pipeline is bolstered and larger deposits are discovered in the area, then it may prove far more feasible than it currently seems. In any case, to a large degree, this will also depend on developments regarding a solution to the Cyprus problem.