Leaders of Greece, Israel, and the Greek Cypriot administration sign accord to carry gas from eastern Mediterranean to Europe, a plan Turkey says is bound to fail.

As now planned, the pipeline will run across the Mediterranean from Israel's Levantine Basin offshore gas reserves to the Greek island of Crete and the Greek mainland, and then to Italy.
As now planned, the pipeline will run across the Mediterranean from Israel's Levantine Basin offshore gas reserves to the Greek island of Crete and the Greek mainland, and then to Italy. (Reuters)

Greece, the Greek Cypriot administration, and Israel on Thursday signed an agreement for a huge pipeline project designed to ship gas from the eastern Mediterranean to Europe.

Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Greek Cypriot leader Nicos Anastasiades joined the ceremony at which their respective energy ministers signed the deal in the Greek capital Athens.

The move comes amid tensions with Turkey over its exploration in the area and a maritime deal with Libya.

Immediately after the ceremony, the Turkish Foreign Ministry called the deal "a new example of futile steps in the region that try to exclude our country and the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC)."

"Any project which aims to ignore Turkey with the longest coastline in the eastern Mediterranean and aims to ignore Turkish Cypriots who have equal rights over the natural sources of the Cyprus island will not be successful," the ministry statement said.

It said the most economical and safe route for bringing the natural sources in the eastern Mediterranean to the consumer markets in Europe is Turkey. 

"However, those who try to close the 'gates of cooperation' for both to us and to Turkish Cypriots clearly are some countries that are in pursuit of vicious political purposes rather than cooperation. We remind the project owners that such dirty purposes will not hold in the future as they were not successful in the past."

EastMed project

The 2,000-km pipeline believed to be able to transfer between nine and 12 billion cubic metres of gas a year from offshore reserves between Israel and the Greek Cypriot administration to Greece, and then on to Italy and other southeastern European countries.

Europe is currently largely dependent on supplies from Russia and the Caucasus region.

As now designed, the pipeline would run from Israel’s Levantine Basin offshore gas reserves to the Greek Cypriot administration, Crete island and the Greek mainland. An overland pipeline to northwestern Greece and another planned undersea pipeline would carry the gas to Italy.

The discovery of hydrocarbon reserves in the eastern Mediterranean has sparked a scramble for the energy riches and a row between the Greek Cypriot administration and Turkey, which is the guarantor of the TRNC.

Turkey already faces European Union sanctions over ships searching for oil and gas off Greek Cypriot administration, whose office in Nicosia is not recognised by Ankara.

Boundary row 

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said in November he envisaged joint energy exploration activities with Libya in the eastern Mediterranean.

Turkey says TRNC — recognised only by Ankara — has the right to explore around the entire island.

Vice President Fuat Oktay said Turkey's pact with Libya had allowed Ankara to foil a plot to confine the country to land.

"No matter who is involved, no plan in the region which excludes Turkey has any chance of success," he told Anadolu Agency.

Greece responded angrily to the Turkey-Libya deal, expelling the Libyan ambassador and urging the UN to condemn it.

Part of the agreement sets a maritime boundary between the two countries, which Greece says fails to take into account the island of Crete.

A change in geopolitical dynamics?

The EastMed alliance "is of enormous importance to the state of Israel's energy future and its development into an energy power and also from the point of view of stability in the region," Netanyahu said in a statement issued as he left Israel for Greece on Thursday.

Greek Energy Minister Kostis Hatzidakis called it "a project of peace and cooperation."

Avinoam Idan, a former Israeli government security official who is now a geostrategy expert at Haifa University, said of the deal, "It's important for Israel, it's important for the transit countries, Greece and Cyprus, and of course Europe."

As the new source of energy would not compete with Russian supplies to the EU, "there is no reason to see it as a big change in the geopolitical dynamic in Europe's energy market," he told AFP.

The Greek daily Kathimerini said on Wednesday Athens and Nicosia had been in a hurry to finalise EastMed "to counter any attempt by the Turkish neighbour to stop the project."

The Greek Cypriot Administration has licensed Italian energy company Eni, France's Total, ExxonMobil and Texas-based Noble Energy to carry out exploratory hydrocarbons drilling in certain parts of island's offshore economic zone.

The cost of the installation from the eastern Mediterranean to Italy is estimated at $6.7 billion.

Cyprus is divided into a Greek Cypriot south and a Turkish Cypriot north backed by Turkey. 

The split followed a 1974 Turkish intervention by an attempted coup aiming to bring Cyprus under Greek rule.

Source: TRTWorld and agencies