Israel, Greece and Cyprus set to ink east-Med pipeline deal

Israel, Greece and Cyprus are set to sign a trilateral agreement that will lay the groundwork for a planned 1,900-kilometre (1,181 miles) gas pipeline connecting Israel’s offshore fields with Europe, but the move is likely to raise tensions with Turkey over the region’s potentially rich hydrocarbon reserves.

Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Kyriakos Mitsotakis, the Greek prime minister, and Nicos Anastasiades, the Cypriot president, will sign the deal in Athens on Thursday.

The pipeline agreement is not intended to send a message to Turkey, but to promote cooperation, the Greek Reporter quoted Greek Energy Minister Kostis Hatzidakis as saying.

Ankara sees the €6 billion pipeline project as an attempt to undermine Turkey’s rights over the east Mediterranean’s hydrocarbon reserves and signed a maritime boundaries deal in November with U.N.-recognised Libyan government which made the two countries maritime neighbours.

Turkey now says the pipeline project, which is also supported by the European Union and the United States, infringes on the exclusive economic zone (EEZ) it defined in the memorandum of understanding it sealed with the Tripoli government. 

Michael Harari, a policy fellow with the Israeli think-tank Mitvim and former Israeli ambassador to Cyprus, told the Financial Times that Turkey’s accord with Libya delivered a clear message to its neighbours that it could not be excluded from the regional bonanza.

"No matter who is involved, no plan in the region (east Mediterranean) which excludes Turkey has any chance of success,” Turkey’s Vice President Fuat Oktay told state-run Anadolu news agency on Wednesday. 

Tensions were high in east Mediterranean last year as Turkey stepped up efforts for gas exploration near Cyprus by sending two drilling ships and navy vessels. Turkey says Cypriot government’s EEZ overlaps with Turkey’s continental shelf and maintains that the Turkish Cypriot state, a breakaway administration in the north of the island only recognised with Turkey, should receive a fair share from the hydrocarbon reserves around the island which has been divided since a Turkish invasion in 1974.