The Texas-based firm Noble Energy and the Israeli firm Delek recently concluded an agreement with Egypt’s Dolphinus to export natural gas from Israel’s offshore reserves to Egyptian gas-liquefaction facilities—the only such facilities in the region—and then export it to Europe. As Zvi Mazel explains, the economic benefit to both countries can be substantial, but anti-Israel sentiment could still get in the way:
Egyptian officials were at pains to stress that this was a business deal between private companies, while at the same time emphasizing that it was a first step toward making Egypt a regional gas market. . . . These attempts to preempt accusations of “normalization” [of relations with Israel] were not wholly successful. Questions were asked in parliament; an attorney petitioned the [Egyptian] supreme court to void the deal.
The ink hadn’t dried yet on the deal when Cyprus revealed that it, too, was engaged in negotiations with Cairo regarding the export of gas from its Aphrodite offshore field not far from the coast of Egypt. . . . Aphrodite’s reserves are estimated at some 129-billion cubic meters. Noble energy, Delek drilling, and Avner oil exploration [another Israeli company] hold significant shares in that field.
Several routes exist for optimizing the production of eastern Mediterranean gas fields. . . . Yet significant obstacles lie ahead. Ongoing disputes concern the maritime borders of all parties involved. Cyprus reached an agreement with Egypt regarding the delimitation of its maritime borders in 2003, in 2007 with Lebanon, and in 2013 with Israel. . . . Egypt, [however], has never delimited its maritime borders with Israel. It’s currently not happy with the agreement between Cyprus and Israel, even though its commercial waters are not affected and the coordinates of that agreement conform with internationally accepted criteria. . . .
That said, the enormous gas resources in the eastern Mediterranean could significantly contribute to the economic development and stability of the countries of the region, provided these governments can set aside their conflicts and differences of opinion to work together for their mutual benefit. As things stand, political and religious interests have the upper hand, and it’s hard to see how they could be overcome or avoided.
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