Erdoğan rhetoric jeopardises Israel pipeline

Plans for an undersea gas pipeline between Israel and Turkey are under threat after Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan upped his rhetoric against the Jewish state.

Israel is instead focusing on exporting gas to Egypt and other destinations because of fraying relations with Turkey, Bloomberg reported, citing two people familiar with the matter that it didn’t identify. The pace of talks with Ankara on the new route has fallen sharply, they said.

Erdoğan’s anti-Israeli statements intensified after President Donald Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital in early December. Turkey “won’t leave Jerusalem to the mercy of a child-killing nation,” he said, calling Israel’s soldiers “terrorists.”

His comments angered Israeli officials already critical of Turkish support for Palestinian group Hamas, considered a terrorist group by the United States.

Turkey and Israel sought to revive relations in 2016 after a six-year rupture in a rapprochement brokered by Washington. As part of the plan, Israel was to export gas to Turkey, and then to Europe, at a time when Turkey’s relations with its main gas supplier, Russia, were frayed.

Turkish pipeline company Botaş cancelled a December visit to Israel, according to one of the people familiar with the matter, Bloomberg said. Botaş officials declined to comment.

The partners in the project – Noble Energy and Delek Holding – suspect talks with Ankara are being used as a bargaining chip with Moscow, one of the people familiar with the situation said.

Israel is also looking at building a pipeline to Cyprus, Greece then on to Italy at a cost of at least $6 billion, Bloomberg reported. Gas executives are sceptical the project is financially viable, and Turkish control of northern Cyprus could create obstacles, it said.

Malcolm Hoenlein, a director at Delek, said it’s too early to rule out a deal with Turkey, even though Erdoğan has “complicated progress”, the newswire said.
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