Un turning 180 degrees, a disconcerting volte-face. It doesn’t matter what expression you use. By announcing, on May 30, that she was going to grant permits for new gas exploration in Israeli territorial waters, the Israeli Minister of Energy created a surprise and drew a line under her statements of last December: “ In the next few years, we will focus on renewable energies and we will put aside the development of natural gas, which is a short-term solution. »
From now on, its new leitmotif reads as follows: “The global energy crisis offers real opportunities to the State of Israel in terms of gas exports, with also sincere and real concern for what is happening in Europe. No need to say more to explain this change of course. In six months, with the war in Ukraine, we are witnessing a global energy crisis. And Israel has understood this: thanks to its gas, the country can move from the status of a regional protagonist to that of a major player on the international level.
A new ambition for Israel
Today, Israel operates three offshore gas fields. Discovered in 2009, Tamar is located about 90 kilometers west of Haifa, in the northern part of Israeli territorial waters. At the time of its discovery, its reserves were estimated at 240 billion cubic meters. Enough to ensure domestic consumption for several decades. A year later, the discovery of Leviathan, 30 kilometers west of Tamar, would change everything. With its 500 billion cubic meters, it was not only the largest discovery of gas field in the world, but it meant for Israel a new ambition: that of gas exporter, at least on the regional level. To this was added recently the discovery of two other offshore gas fields: those of Karish and Tanin, with their 100 billion cubic meters.
Already a gas exporter to two neighboring countries, Egypt and Jordan, does Israel have the means for its new policy, that of energy partner of the EU? “Yes”, answers the Ministry of Energy, which mentions reserves close to 1,000 billion cubic meters, while the needs for domestic consumption should not exceed 500 billion cubic meters in the foreseeable future. Israel would therefore benefit from a reserve of 500 billion cubic meters intended for export. A figure that could double, in case the gas companies, which rush to the gate to receive prospecting licenses, make new discoveries.
In fact, for Israel, the challenge comes down to this question: how to transport its gas to Europe? The Eastern Mediterranean Pipeline (EastMed) project, connecting the gas fields to the European continent in partnership with Cyprus and Greece, was abandoned after the United States withdrew for, they said, “economic and environmental reasons. So there remains export via the two Egyptian gas liquefaction plants; the product is then transported by tanker to Europe.
Israel-Egypt-EU: everyone wins
This formula led to the Israel-Egypt-European Union tripartite agreement, signed in Cairo in mid-June. A win-win for the three partners. Egypt, which would like to become a regional energy hub, sees above all the opportunity to achieve “a qualitative leap in the Egyptian-European partnership”. For the Europeans, it is of course the reduction, in terms of energy, of its dependence vis-à-vis Russia. For Israel, it is the promise of more cooperation between the members of the Eastern Mediterranean Gas Forum, which includes Jordan, Israel, Cyprus, Greece, Egypt, the Palestinian Authority, France and the Italy. In other words, an extension to Europe of gas diplomacy.
Discussions are underway on the establishment of a third gas pipeline between Israel and Egypt. In the longer term, other options are being examined to increase deliveries to the European Union. We are talking, for example, of the construction of a major gas pipeline that would link the eastern Mediterranean to a European terminal. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan proposes that this pass through his territory. He recently reconciled with Israel.