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Turkey-Israel Relations: A Pathway to Eastern Mediterranean Energy Corridor - Erkin Sancarbaba

Turkey-Israel relations are gaining momentum again after a break. The planned visit of Israeli President Herzog to Turkey in mid-March is an important indicator of this situation. Of course, energy will have an important place in the progress of bilateral relations. The two countries have demonstrated a common will for energy cooperation for years. However, political developments and differences of opinion overshadowed the identity of interests. Nowadays, it is better understood that when divergences take precedence over common interests, it is not possible to talk about a winning party.

The prominence of differences in foreign policy encouraged Turkey and Israel to seek new strategic partners. Israel preferred to cooperate with Egypt, Greece, and the Greek Administration of Southern Cyprus on energy. As a result of gas discoveries in the eastern Mediterranean, four countries established the East Mediterranean Gas Forum (EMGF) in 2019. On the other hand, it would be very assertive to say that the cooperation has gained success in creating an energy corridor. Although the agreement for the construction of the Eastern Mediterranean (EastMed) pipeline, which aims to transport gas from the Israeli coast to Europe via Southern Cyprus and Greece, was signed in 2020, the project seems difficult to implement in the current situation. In fact, the search for a new route for the pipeline in line with the plan proposed by Egypt is a clear indication of the aforementioned circumstance.

The Turkey-Libyan Government of National Accord (GNA) maritime delimitation agreement, which was signed in 2019, has an effect on Egypt's alternative seeking. As a result of the maritime delimitation agreement, the planned route of the Eastern Mediterranean pipeline runs through contested waters.

The unrealistic nature of the agreed-upon project must have been known by Israeli decision-makers and companies so that Israeli state-owned pipeline company EAPC signed an agreement with the Emirati companies for the transfer of offshore gas to Europe. The technical difficulties of the project, such as rising construction costs and the disputed financial feasibility of the project, pose obstacles to the realization of the pipeline.

Furthermore, the US government and the American companies are backing away from the project due to the geopolitical deadlock, financial reasons, and the orientation towards green investments. As a result, this situation raised questions about the future of the gas pipeline project.

On the other hand, another option that is proposed for the transmission of the Eastern Mediterranean gas is the Israel-Turkey Pipeline. The project has the potential of connecting the Leviathan Gas Field to Turkey's Ceyhan port, a gateway to the European market. Considering the comparatively shorter distance, the aforementioned pipeline project represents the most cost-effective option for accessing the European markets. Thanks to the project, the Eastern Mediterranean energy corridor, which has been dreamed of for a long time, would be realized, and regional development would gain momentum at the same time.

The normalization of relations between Israel and Turkey and their cooperation in energy will benefit both countries. In this process, Turkey can play an important role in transmitting Eastern Mediterranean gas to Europe. Also, with the help of the rising bilateral relations and potential energy cooperation, the resources in the Leviathan and Tamar gas fields, which are located off the coast of Israel, will be exported easily.

Besides, Turkish policymakers' efforts to improve the country's relations with Egypt and the United Arab Emirates might also contribute to the target of establishing the Eastern Mediterranean energy corridor. A multilateral mechanism might be constituted to ensure regional stability and energy security in the next stage.

All in all, the gas reserves found in the gas fields in the Eastern Mediterranean can be used to benefit the regional economy. It has already been seen that the energy policies followed so far in the region do not have a chance to succeed due to their exclusionary nature. The abandonment of these irrational policies, which are based on political differences, will contribute to the prosperity and stability of the region. All parties can benefit by evaluating options that will contribute to regional development. Thanks to a participatory and inclusive approach, the energy resources in the region can serve the welfare of the people in the region. When the parties set political differences aside and focus on the determination of common interests, it will be seen that cooperation is the most logical way. Otherwise, it seems unlikely to establish an efficient energy corridor in the Eastern Mediterranean. Finally, the Israeli and Turkish administrations realized the aforementioned necessity and decided to enter into a new era in bilateral relations. It is indisputable that the determination of both parties will have positive results for the region. In the condition that the countries' constructive approaches in the region continue to gain strength, it may be possible to institute an energy corridor in the Eastern Mediterranean.