The EastMed pipeline could be in place in five years, Israeli Minister of National Infrastructure, Energy and Water Resources, Yuval Steinitz, has told the Cyprus News Agency (CNA), describing it as an extremely important project.
In Israel we have a huge surplus of gas. We have enough to justify not one EastMed pipeline but I think together with Cyprus we can justify even two or three such pipelines, Steinitz said in an interview with CNA, while referring to the regional intergovernmental organization “East Mediterranean Gas Forum” (EMGF), he noted that it is very important, noting that for the first time Arab countries, European countries and Israel are sitting together on economic and strategic issues.
As regards Turkey’s drilling activities in Cyprus’ EEZ he expressed hope that Ankara will change its attitude and will coordinate its efforts with Greece, Cyprus, Egypt, Israel and all other countries, rather than getting into conflict.
Asked about the importance of the Memorandum of Understanding that was signed on March 8 in Nicosia among Cyprus, Greece and Israel for the EuroAsia Interconnector, Steinitz said that “this is extremely important for us because actually from an energy point of view we are an island like Cyprus. So, the fact that now Greece, Cyprus and Israel agreed to establish an electricity interconnector that will connect Greece to Cyprus and to Israel is extremely important for us.”
The Israeli Minister went on to say that “we have formed in the last decade some kind of alliance between the three democracies of the Eastern Mediterranean, and now we will also have a physical connection. It is so important for us because we decided to rely heavily almost 30% on solar energy in the future.”
He stressed that “we need some backing. And this interconnector will give us some of the backing that we need in order to depend so heavily on solar energy,” he added.
Invited to say if Israel is satisfied with the progress achieved so far as regards the promotion and implementation of the EastMed project, Steinitz noted that “finally after many years that we missed opportunities, Israel, Cyprus and Greece decided to combine forces together and to help each other’s economic development by all means.”
“It is not just Energy. It is also tourism. I was surprised to hear that before the coronavirus, in 2019 there were more than 300,000 Israeli tourists in Cyprus and close to a million in Greece. And this is growing. But also, in the field of Energy, the EastMed pipeline will enable Israel and Cyprus to export natural gas directly to Europe, to Greece and Italy, and from Greece and Italy to the Balkans and Central Europe. So, this is an extremely important project.”
He noted that Israel has a huge surplus of gas “and in 2016 I convinced the European Union, the Energy Commissioner, that if they are looking for some replacement for the Nord Stream, the Eastern Mediterranean, Israel and Cyprus can be trusted, two modern democracies, with an undersea pipeline.”
“This is going to be the longest and deepest subsea gas pipeline in the world and the EU took upon itself the feasibility studies. Already 1 hundred million Euros were invested mainly by the EU. After the corona virus crisis will be over, hopefully in a few months, half a year, we are going to promote it and to establish it. I hope that five years from now we will have this pipeline in place. I believe that the electricity interconnector might be in place in two or three years time. The EastMed pipeline is a bigger and more expensive project and it will probably take around five years,” he added.
Recalling that Israel actually started this project and that an MoU was signed in Tel Aviv in 2017 by the Ministers of Energy from Greece, Italy, Cyprus and Israel together with the EU Energy Commissioner, Steinitz said that “this is an extremely important project for us, even though we are already exporting natural gas to our neighbours, to Jordan and Egypt, and some of the gas that is going from Israel to Egypt is already exported to Europe via Egypt’s energy facilities in the Nile Delta. But we have a huge surplus of gas and we have enough to justify not one EastMed pipeline but I think together with Cyprus we can justify even two or three such pipelines,” he added.
Asked about Turkey’s stance as regards energy developments in the Eastern Mediterranean and more specifically its illegal activities in the Cypriot EEZ and if Turkey could be part of joint energy projects in the region, the Israeli Minister said that “all these Turkish activities and all this conflict with Cyprus and also to a certain extent with Greece came to us as a surprise.”
“But let me try to speak positively. I hope that one day Turkey will decide to join the region, to become maybe even part of the East Mediterranean Gas Forum and to coordinate, rather than get into conflict, its efforts with Greece, Cyprus, Egypt, Israel and all other countries. I hope that they will change their attitude. We are ready to cooperate with Turkey. In the past we even considered with Turkey some gas export from Israel to Turkey. Nothing came out of it, but there were some discussions about it and we would prefer to see Turkey as part of regional cooperation rather as a source of conflict,” he added.
Asked about the importance of the EMGF, Steinitz said that “it is an extremely important forum, unprecedent actually in the region. It started when I met with my Egyptian colleague Tarek El-Molla three years ago in Washington and I came with this proposal that Egypt and Israel will establish together the Forum and it will be located in Cairo,” he noted.
He added that “today Italy, Greece, Cyprus, Egypt, Israel, Jordan and the Palestinian Authority are members. France asked to become a member and the EU has already an observer status. Also the US and the United Arab Emirates asked to be part of the observers. It is very important. It is an umbrella for regional cooperation. For the first time Arab countries, European countries and Israel are sitting together on economic and strategic issues.
Steinitz said that the first official ministerial meeting of the founding members of EMGF would discuss about the future of shipments in the Mediterranean. He said that his proposal is that “in the future we should allow only commercial ships that move with natural gas rather than with gasoline or diesel to the Mediterranean and we already have some positive reactions from some of the countries even from the EU.”
“This will enable us to reduce air pollution in the Mediterranean because there are hundreds of thousands of commercial ships that are moving all over the Mediterranean. This will also reduce the risk of spilling and therefore serious pollution in the water. So, it is good for the surrounding and the vicinity since the Mediterranean is a closed sea with a lot of commercial ships,” the Israeli Minister said.
Asked about the 3+1 cooperation scheme among Cyprus, Greece, Israel and the US, Steinitz said that “it is always important and good to have the US on board this regional alliance. “Greece, Cyprus, Israel, the three open societies and democracies of the Eastern Mediterranean, finally after many years decided to warm the relations and the cooperation is good for all of us. So, actually today’s relations with Cyprus and Greece are better than ever,” the Israeli Minister noted.
He referred to the cooperation with regard to investments, the hi-tech field of energy and also in security issues. “Sometimes we exercise together, sometimes we contribute to our friends with counter-terrorism and intelligence, sometimes they contribute to us, sometimes we even make exercises in Greece and in Cyprus in coordination or sometimes have cooperation with their own defence forces,” he added.
“I think this alliance is really very important for all reasons: economically, diplomacy, defence, counter-terrorism, everything. Still to have the US aboard is very supportive to this warming and development of relations between Israel, Cyprus and Greece. So this forum is very important and the support and involvement of the US was always positive,” Steinitz said.
Asked how Green Energy can be further promoted in the Eastern Mediterranean region, the Israeli Minister said that “just five or six years ago our electricity was produced from coal 60% and diesel 40% and was extremely polluting, with 20-25 stations all around the country. Today already 80% of our electricity is produced from natural gas and solar energy and only 20% from coal. In 2025 it will be zero coal or oil and there will be only 70% natural gas and 30% solar energy. So, the mixture is totally upside down in less than 10 years.”
He went on to say that “this enables us to reduce air pollution from the energy sector in Israel by 70% in the last five years and by 2025 this reduction will reach more than 90%,” adding that this is remarkable.
Steinitz said that as regards solar energy Israel is already number two in the world. “We produce 10% of our electricity with solar energy and in 2030 it will be 30% and I believe we will be number one in the world by then. So, we urgently need the interconnector that we signed because this will give us an extra backing in winter time when suddenly even in Israel there can be two or three weeks with only cloudy days and although we will establish a lot of electricity storages it is still very difficult to keep enough electricity for the entire country for more than a few days,” he added.
He went on to say that Cyprus uses both wind and solar energy and added: “Just imagine you can have cloudy days without wind. It might happen from time to time. Still, you need the backing from Greece and from Israel. So the fact that we are going to connect our electricity grids will enable us to rely more and more on renewables, mainly on solar systems.”
Steinitz also noted that Israel is a start-ups nation, as it has more start-ups than any other nation in the world with the exclusion of the US. “We have even more technological start-ups than all of the EU together. In the last five years we see hundreds of new start-ups in the field of Energy, in cyber-security for the energy sector, in energy efficiency, in solar systems, in electricals, in hydrogen cells, in electricity storage and so on and so forth. Some of them already became giants.”
So, he added, “all this is very important to help change the future with a lot of technological developments and Israel is becoming one of the most important centers in the world also for energy start-ups. Also, in this we can combine forces with Greece and Cyprus and I am confident we should find ways”.