Countries around the Eastern Mediterranean took a potentially important step toward realizing their dreams of boosting energy production with the creation Monday of a forum joining Israel, Egypt, Cyprus, and other neighbors to develop their new natural gas discoveries.
The Eastern Mediterranean Gas Forum, announced Monday in Cairo, formalizes growing energy ties among recent rivals and could spur much-needed development of energy infrastructure required to tap the region’s potential as a source of energy for Europe and beyond. The forum in particular cements the growing commercial links between Israel and Egypt; Israel expects to start shipping natural gas to Egypt in the next few months as part of a landmark, $15 billion deal between the two countries.
But the new organization has a few notable absences, including Syria and Lebanon—both of which are trying to develop potential offshore gas fields—and especially Turkey. Ankara’s repeated opposition to energy exploration off the coast of Cyprus, which Turkey views as disputed waters, has cast a cloud over the development of natural gas discoveries in the region. Turkish warships chased away an Italian drillship operating off Cyprus last year, and Ankara tried to warn off ExxonMobil from drilling in its own block off the Cypriot coast late last year.
The new body will promote “discussions among countries that already have cooperation with each other,” said Brenda Shaffer, an energy expert at Georgetown University. “Hopefully, in the next round of the forum, Turkey will be involved, and that would make it much more significant and not just include the happy campers.”