In recent years, Egypt, Israel and Cyprus have all discovered huge natural gas fields off their coasts, raising export potential and perhaps the prospects for better political ties in the region through new energy partnerships. At least this is the scenario that the United States is hoping for. Last month, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry’s envoy on energy affairs, Amos Hochstein, told Bloomberg that “we’re just beginning to open the spigots of what is the potential for the broader region.”
That is already evident in the improved ties between Israel and Turkey after their June rapprochement, motivated by gas diplomacy. And there is even the possibility of detente between Ankara and Cyprus, since any potential new gas pipeline from Israel to Turkey would need to travel through the island, the north of which has been occupied by Turkey since 1974. Washington, according to Bloomberg, is bullish on the eastern Mediterranean for another reason. “Even as the region struggles with regulatory uncertainty and an abundance of geopolitical risks, the U.S. is seeking to turn it into another corridor for gas supplies to Europe, which is trying to diversify its sources away from Russia.”
The abundance of natural gas has made the Mediterranean a more strategic space for Israel, Egypt and Cyprus. Israel has boosted its navy to protect its offshore gas fields and reached out to Cyprus, Greece and Turkey as potential energy partners. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu joined his Cypriot and Greek counterparts for a summit last January in Nicosia—a sign of closer ties that included talks about joint military exercises and coordinated economic cooperation with Egypt. The previous month, in Athens, Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sisi met with Greek and Cypriot leaders to discuss offshore gas rights. Most recently, in late August, Egypt and Cyprus agreed to a deal for transfers of Cypriot gas to the Arab world’s most populous country through a new pipeline, which wouldn’t be operational until at least 2020.