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Israel Begins Exporting Natural Gas to Egypt
The Leviathan natural gas platform is shown in the Mediterranean Sea off the Israeli coastal village of Dor on December 31, 2019, the day it came on line. (Jack Guez/AFP via Getty Images)

Israel Begins Exporting Natural Gas to Egypt

Most of the fuel will eventually make its way to Europe, with the North African state anchoring its position as a regional gas hub

Israel has begun exporting natural gas to Egypt as part of a deal worth an estimated $15 billion over 10 years, the Egyptian petroleum and mineral resources minister and his Israeli counterpart announced on Wednesday.

The Israeli Energy Ministry confirmed in a statement to The Media Line the first transmission of natural gas to Egypt, calling it an important development that will benefit both countries’ economies.

“It will enable Israel to export some of its natural gas to Europe via Egyptian LNG [liquefied natural gas] facilities [and then via ship], and will come in the context of Egypt’s growing role as a regional gas hub,” the statement said.

The revised deal, signed this past October, specifies the export of up to 85 billion cubic meters of gas. The Israeli company Delek, operator of Israel’s Leviathan and Tamar offshore gas fields, will provide 60bcm of natural gas from Leviathan, and another 25bcm from Tamar, to the Egyptian firm Dolphinus over the course of 15 years.

Tamar has been operating for some time, and the larger Leviathan field began commercial pumping on December 31.

Ahmed Kandeel, an Egyptian expert on international relations and head of the Energy Studies Program at Al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies in Cairo, told The Media Line that the project had great significance.

“When economic cooperation increases between Egypt and Israel, it helps to enhance the security and stability of the region,” he said.

Kandeel added that despite what many call a cold peace, the relationship between Egypt and Israel was well developed and the countries have been cooperating on security and counter-terrorism for a while now.

“This [security] cooperation basically facilitated the cooperation in terms of gas,” he explained. “The relations exist and are strong, as there is already trust between the countries.”

He further said that Egypt was already self-sufficient in natural gas and therefore most of the gas coming from Israel would be exported to Europe after first being processed and liquefied, something that “will benefit Europe in terms of reducing its dependence on Russian gas that [currently] meets 40% of Europe’s gas needs, especially since the latter has a policy to diversify its sources of gas imports.”

He confirmed to The Media Line that Egypt has the infrastructure to export gas.

Kandeel explained that Cairo had once exported gas to Israel, but after Israel’s offshore gas discoveries, Eastern Mediterranean countries, including Egypt and Israel, had developed a common interest in cooperating, “especially since global trends tend toward dispensing with traditional fuels [e.g., coal and petroleum] to preserve the environment.”

Zvi Mazel, a former Israeli ambassador to Egypt, told The Media Line that the joint project was important, as Israel, since its independence, has been trying to make peace with its neighbors.

“Egypt is the most important Arab country,” he said. “After so many wars between us, I think it’s very important to maintain these relations and do everything to strengthen them.”

Mazel emphasized the importance of economic ties, saying they already existed between the two countries, but were limited.

“If you examine it in depth, you’ll see that there was an agreement signed between a few Israeli tycoons and a few Egyptian tycoons, and the people of Israel, and especially the people of Egypt, are not involved,” he explained.

He added that most of the peace is carried between governments and businesspeople, while citizens on both sides are not as involved as they should be.

“That’s the main problem, and it has been like that from the beginning,” he said. “It’s like avoiding real normalization. But this is not real peace. Real peace will be when Egypt invites [Israeli] sports teams, artists [and] scientists to Cairo, holds conferences together and allows its people to go to Israel.”

Egyptian Petroleum and Mineral Resources Minister Tarek El-Molla and Israeli Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz will present the project at the summit of the Eastern Mediterranean Gas Forum (EMGF) in Cairo on Thursday. During the summit, the Egyptian, Israeli, Greek, Cypriot, Italian, Jordanian and Palestinian Authority energy ministers are all expected to approve the establishment of a regional gas organization.

Last January, Molla hosted the other six energy ministers to discuss the establishment of the EMGF, which will serve as an umbrella for cooperation and dialogue regarding the development of gas resources in the region, according to the Institute for National Security Studies (INSS) in Tel Aviv. At the close of that meeting, the ministers announced the start of official talks about the structure of the forum and the aim to draft recommendations for the next meeting.

Thafer Mulhem, head of the Palestinian Energy Authority, declined to comment to The Media Line on the matter as he is not participating in Thursday’s summit. Instead, Muhammad Mustafa, chairman of the Palestine Investment Fund and a senior adviser to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, is leading the Palestinian delegation to Cairo.

“Participation comes in response to an Egyptian call [to attend] and to affirm the sovereign rights of Palestine over its natural resources, including their extraction, development and preservation within the regional equation as well as recent discoveries of gas fields in the Mediterranean,” a source close to the Palestinian delegation to Cairo told The Media Line.

The source confirmed an insistence on national rights in Palestinian territorial waters according to international law and in accordance with the provisions of the Cairo Declaration issued after the meeting held last January, which called on all sides to respect the sovereignty of forum member states over all their natural resources.

“We will continue to work with countries in the region and the world to ensure they respect their international legal obligations to enable the Palestinian people to take advantage of their natural resources,” the sources stated.

Recently, Palestinian leaders expressed strong objections after the leaders of Greece, Cyprus and Israel signed the Eastern Mediterranean (EastMed) pipeline agreement in Athens on January 2.

The project is to transport up to 11 billion cubic meters of gas annually from the Eastern Mediterranean basin off Israel and Cyprus to Greece, from where it can be exported to other European nations.

Palestinians leaders called the move an attempt by Israel to ignore the legitimate rights of the Palestinian people to the natural gas in the Mediterranean.

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