Although many reservations were expressed by the Israeli media about the official visit by President Isaac Herzog to Turkey, there is no denying that an effort to normalise relations is under way. While Herzog said Israel had no illusions about efforts to restore relations, he nevertheless told journalists that “the groundwork for re-establishment of relations has been laid.”
This was the first visit by an Israeli head of state since 2007, aimed at ending a long period of strained relations between the two countries, and energy appears to be a key factor in the rapprochement. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said after the meeting with Herzog that Turkey was ready to cooperate in energy, seeing the visit as “an opportunity to develop our energy cooperation.”
According to Daily Sabah website, Erdogan said “the two countries could work together to carry Israeli natural gas to Europe.” Herzog also saw the potential, although he was not as specific, saying that Israel and Turkey “can and should have a cooperation that can positively affect this entire region we call home.” It is clear both sides saw possible cooperation on natural gas as an incentive for restoring relations which would be good for the eastern Mediterranean.
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the West’s efforts to find alternative sources of natural gas will have added urgency to this potential cooperation – sending natural gas from Israeli gas fields to Europe via Turkey – which will have the full support of the EU and US. It is a big opportunity, from which the Cyprus government appears to have been excluded, despite its close ties with Israel and the much-touted trilateral alliance, that also includes Greece, and is supposed to promote energy cooperation.
The reality is that sending natural gas by pipeline from the eastern Mediterranean through Turkey to Europe has always been the only economically and politically viable option, even though the Cyprus government pretended that the EastMed pipeline was a pragmatic alternative. Now, with Europe eager to find alternative sources of natural gas – it has said it would be independent of Russian energy before 2030 – the option of a pipeline going through Turkey has become even more compelling as it could be set up quite fast.
Our politicians, including President Anastasiades, who, inexplicably, is clinging on to the EastMed project, have ruled out marketing natural gas by pipeline through Turkey. They need to reconsider this position. If anything, the government must look at how it can also participate in the Israel-Turkey energy cooperation because this is likely to be the only show in town and have the full support of the EU.