The strengthening of relations with Israel was the main theme of the speeches made during the state visit on Tuesday of President of Israel Reuven Rivlin by him and President Anastasiades. Talk of closer relations is fully backed by facts with closer co-operation being seen in the economy, healthcare, security, tourism, defence and of course energy, with Anastasiades referring to Israel as a “strategic partner”.
Rivlin spoke of Cyprus as a “good neighbour” and noted that commerce between the two countries was worth more the $650 million annually while a quarter of a million tourists arrived on the island from Israel every year. Referring to the trilateral agreement that included Greece, the Israeli president said the three countries “aim to form a shared economy based on flow of energy, information and electricity.”
There was the inevitable reference to energy, which Anastasiades referred to as “the strategic pillar of co-operation, which creates a very positive regional interest, as proven by our joint commitment to the East Med pipeline.” Rivlin said the East Med pipeline was “our prime focus right now” and “could be one of the greatest underwater projects in the world.” This was the part of the speeches that veered into the realm of wishful thinking.
We are still waiting for the completion of a study on the feasibility of a pipeline running from the eastern Mediterranean to Greece. The potentially greatest underwater project in the world, the cost of which is put at $8 billion, has not even been deemed economically viable by the financial experts. But even if the experts deemed it a viable project, a huge investment would be needed to make it viable and this, in turn, would depend on energy market conditions. Low world prices for gas could be a major disincentive for investors, not to mention the changing political relations and balances in the region.
There are far too many unknowns to speak with any certainty about the East Med project, even though it is politically and economically expedient for both countries to do so. If at some point in the future President Erdogan is not in power and Turkey-Israel relations improve would Israel’s enthusiasm for East Med remain? When a couple of years ago relations between the two countries seemed to be on the mend, Israel was discussing the construction of a pipeline to Turkey, only to drop the idea when a rift in their ties reappeared.
The two countries should focus on building the co-operation in all the fields mentioned above and leave the grand project of the East Med aside until it becomes a realistic possibility, a status it has not yet attained.