YESTERDAY’S signing of the memorandum of understanding on energy and water resources by Cyprus, Greece and Israel was hailed as ‘historic’ and in a sense it was. There has never before been such an agreement by the three countries and many view it as the start for greater co-operation and stronger relations.
Israel’s minister for energy and water resources, Silvan Shalom spoke this prospect on Wednesday. He said: “The fact that we are here shows that we do not only work well on (issues concerning) water, but it’s also about geopolitics, strategy and political issues among the three countries.”
President Anastasiades appeared on the same wavelength. In a speech at the opening of a fifth desalination plant, which Israeli companies had helped build, he said the common energy interests could become “the driving force for an enhanced partnership between our two countries.” He also invited Israel to commit to exporting its natural gas from Cyprus’ LNG facility, which is still at a very early planning stage.
While the good intentions exist, so far, most plans of co-operation exist in the realm of theory, nothing tangible having been decided, let alone agreed. The memorandum provides a framework for exploring the feasibility of joint projects – one envisages linking the three countries through an underwater electricity cable, a second would involve an underwater gas pipeline linking the Eastern Mediterranean to Europe via Greece and the third relates to LNG storage facilities in Cyprus. But these projects might not even be viable – feasibility studies would have to be undertaken.
There is no shortage of ideas for co-operation. During Shalom’s visit there were also reports that the Israeli Electricity Company had proposed to supply Cyprus with cheaper electricity through an underwater cable. And when Cyprus started to produce cheap electricity, the flow could be reversed with Israel buying power from the island. Such an arrangement would make the agreement for the temporary supply of natural gas, that the government is currently negotiating, unnecessary.
While plenty of proposals are floating about, it was only a memorandum of understanding that was signed yesterday. There is a very long way to go before any of the plans take shape and are implemented. When this happens, we can talk about historic agreements, geopolitics and strategy, but at present such talk seems premature. What can be said was that yesterday’s signing of the memorandum was an important first step – a declaration of intent – but the words need to be followed by actions if the ‘historic agreement’ billing is to be justified.