Israel and Turkey on Thursday agreed to open discussions on building a gas pipeline to transport Israeli gas to Europe, as the Israeli energy minister made the first ministerial visit to Turkey since the eruption of a 2010 crisis in ties, Agence France-Presse (AFP) has reported.
Israeli Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz met with his Turkish counterpart, Berat Albayrak, in İstanbul, the highest-level official meeting since the two countries normalized ties in June after a 2010 crisis triggered by Israel’s deadly storming of a Gaza-bound aid ship.
Until the 2010 crisis, NATO member Turkey had been Israel’s key ally in the Muslim world, and the process to normalize relations was strongly backed by the United States.
Hailing his visit as the start of the economic benefits of normalization, Steinitz said they agreed to start examining the feasibility of building an undersea gas pipeline to pump Israeli gas to Turkish consumers and on to Europe.
“What we decided is to immediately establish dialogue between our two governments … in order to examine the possibility and the feasibility of such a project,” he said.
He said that while Israel was also building regional energy cooperation links with Jordan, Egypt, Cyprus and Greece, “the Turkish option is very important.”
He added that Israel “will also be glad to see Turkish companies involved in the Israeli energy sector” including in the exploration of gas fields.
A fluent English speaker, Albayrak is President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s son-in-law and is seen as one of the rising stars of the Turkish government.
The Turkish Energy Ministry, meanwhile, said in a statement that the two ministers had agreed “to establish dialogue on exporting natural gas.”
‘Sweetener in relations’
There remains huge potential for tension between the two sides, with Erdoğan seeing himself as a champion of the Palestinian cause and being a strong backer of Hamas.
Israel, meanwhile, is unlikely to forget Erdoğan’s past verbal assaults on the Israeli leadership that extended to accusations of “keeping Hitler’s spirit alive.”
But Turkey, which is hugely dependent on Russia for its energy imports, is keen to diversify supplies and has a close eye on Israel’s own developing resources.
Israel is searching for energy partners to develop its Leviathan natural gas field in a bid to make it economically feasible.
“I believe energy is a sweetener in normalizing Turkish-Israeli relations,” energy expert Necdet Pamir of Bilkent University in Ankara told AFP.
“From Israel’s perspective, shipping its gas to Europe through Turkey is the most profitable way,” Pamir said. “Turkey is the most rational market for Israel.”
Steinitz said Israel has so far discovered approximately 900 billion cubic meters (bcm) of natural gas, but further exploration could raise the estimated reserves to around 3,000 bcm.
“This is a lot of gas — much more than a little country like Israel can consume.”
The talks on the proposed Israel-Turkey pipeline come just three days after Russia and Turkey signed an agreement on the construction of the TurkStream pipeline to pump Russian gas to Turkey and Europe.