EU looks to Israel as it battles Russian energy 'blackmail,' Israel's government under threat, & Bibi-Tarantino

June 15, 2022

Former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife Sarah chat with American film director Quentin Tarantino in Tel Aviv a couple of days ago. As I mention in the TV interview below, Netanyahu may well be back in power soon.

Tarantino is married to an Israeli and spends much of his time in Israel with his wife and child, as I noted in past dispatches, for example, here.

 

Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett greets European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen in Jerusalem yesterday. The EU's relations with Israel have been steadily improving since various Arab countries made peace with Israel under the Abraham Accords two years ago.

 

Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi meets Bennett in Jerusalem yesterday.

 

EU MEMBERS EYE ISRAEL AS THEY SEEK TO DIMINISH THEIR RELIANCE ON RUSSIAN ENERGY

[Note by Tom Gross]

The EU is seeking to boost energy co-operation with Israel as it "battles" Russian energy "blackmail", European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen said yesterday during a visit to Israel.

The EU has been searching for ways to cut its dependency on Russian fuel supplies since the outbreak of the Ukraine war over three months ago. In recent years, Israel has discovered large offshore gas resources.

"In a war against democracy, we all have a stake, von der Leyen said at an event at Ben-Gurion University. "The Kremlin has used our dependency on Russian fossil fuels to blackmail us. And since the beginning of the war, Russia has deliberately cut off its gas supplies to Poland, Bulgaria, Finland, to Dutch companies, to Danish companies, in retaliation for our support to Ukraine."

WORLD'S LONGEST AND DEEPEST UNDERWATER POWER CABLE?

In a separate visit to Jerusalem yesterday, Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi described Israel as a "friend" of Italy's and a "fundamental partner," adding that "we want to strengthen our collaboration further, not just in the gas field".

The EU and Israel have explored the possibility of launching the world's longest and deepest underwater power cable that will connecting power grids from Israel to Cyprus and Greece, or alternatively shipping more gas to Europe via Egypt.

Israel is estimated to have gas reserves of at least one trillion cubic meters, with domestic use over the next three decades expected to total no more than 300 billion.

 

ONE OF THE MOST DIVERSE COALITIONS ANYWHERE, TURNS ONE. HOW LONG CAN IT LAST?

Israel's most diverse and narrow coalition government ever was sworn in a year ago this week. Its members include religious right-wing settlers and left-wing gay rights activists; feminists and conservative Arab Islamists.

Even though it may be just about the most diverse coalition ever formed anywhere during peacetime, it has actually managed to get quite a lot done, I argue, and brought about a period of much needed political stability to Israel. At least until now.

To mark its first anniversary I gave this short TV interview:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d8s9h2tkHHI

 

ERDOGAN'S TURKEY ALSO LOOKS TO RESTORE CLOSER TIES WITH ISRAEL

An Israel-Turkey pipeline project, estimated to take three years and cost $1.5 billion, is another option of delivering Israeli gas to European markets.

This is one of several reasons why the government in Ankara is looking to dramatically improve ties with Jerusalem, as I explain in this interview here:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XmSY1m9Icfg

 

BIDEN HEADS TO JERUSALEM NEXT MONTH

Joe Biden announced yesterday that he will make his first visit to Israel as US president in mid-July and will meet Naftali Bennett -- or whoever his successor may be as Israel's prime minister by then (possibly Yair Lapid as interim prime minister, or possibly Netanyahu or someone else.)

Biden will also visit the West Bank and then fly on to Saudi Arabia where he will improve ties following a frosty period caused by the Saudi murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

I attach four news reports below -- from today's Financial Times (London), Fox Business News (New York), the Italian news agency ANSA, and the French news agency AFP -- on the courting of Israel by the EU.

-- Tom Gross


ARTICLES

EU LOOKS TO ISRAEL AS IT BATTLES RUSSIAN ENERGY 'BLACKMAIL'

EU looks to Israel as it battles Russian energy 'blackmail'
Commission president Von der Leyen discusses co-operation over offshore gas infrastructure
By James Shotter in Jerusalem and Raya Jalabi in Beirut
The Financial Times
June 15, 22

The EU is pushing ahead with efforts to boost its energy co-operation with Israel as it battles Russian energy "blackmail", European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen said on Tuesday.

The EU has been searching for ways to cut its dependency on Russian fossil fuels since Vladimir Putin ordered the invasion of Ukraine earlier this year, and Israel, which discovered large offshore gas resources in recent years, is keen to help the bloc diversify its energy supplies.

Von der Leyen said the EU was continuing preparations on two "major" infrastructure projects designed to bolster energy links with Israel: a gas and hydrogen pipeline in the eastern Mediterranean, and an underwater power cable linking Israel to Cyprus and Greece.

"Since the beginning of the war, Russia has deliberately cut off its gas supplies to Poland, to Bulgaria, to Finland, to Dutch companies, to Danish companies, in retaliation for our support to Ukraine," von der Leyen said during a visit to a university in southern Israel.

"But the Kremlin's behaviour only strengthened our resolve to break free of our dependency on Russian fossil fuels."

Israel's prime minister, Naftali Bennett, also discussed energy co-operation with Italian prime minister Mario Draghi, who made his own visit to Israel on Tuesday.

But in a sign of the complexities of developing Mediterranean gas resources, Bennett also criticised Lebanon's leaders for "unnecessary disputes". This follows a row between the two countries, which do not have diplomatic relations, over a contested offshore gasfield.

A US state department official, Amos Hochstein, is in Beirut this week to help mediate the dispute, after a vessel operated by London-listed Greek oil and gas explorer Energean arrived at the Karish gasfield on June 5. The company said its gas rig was scheduled to start production there in the third quarter. While Israel says the field lies in an area recognised by the UN as its exclusive economic zone, Lebanon says the area is disputed.

US-brokered talks between the two countries stalled last year after Lebanese negotiators proposed a new maritime border, which significantly expanded the territory it claimed at Israel's expense.

Hassan Nasrallah, leader of Lebanon's Iran-backed Hizbollah, said earlier this month that his group was ready to act if Israel began drilling before an agreement was reached.

The powerful political and paramilitary force has fought several wars with Israel, and Nasrallah has previously said that he would protect Lebanon's economic rights by force.

Israel's energy and defence ministers said last week that the rig was in Israeli waters, and would not pump gas from disputed territory. But they warned that Israel "prioritises the protection of its strategic assets, and is prepared to defend them and the security of its infrastructure".

Reports in Lebanese media suggest that the government was preparing to offer a compromise to resolve the dispute, that could include dropping the claim to the expanded maritime border or swapping Karish for another nearby field, Qana.

Asked about the possibility of a swap, Hochstein told US-backed Al Hurra TV that Lebanon is "looking at what kind of a compromise can be reached that the Israelis can agree to and not feel like [they are] being pushed into something against their interests, while still preserving the most important part of Lebanon's interests."

 

ISRAEL, EUROPE BOLSTER ENERGY ALLIANCE AS THEY LOOK TO ISOLATE RUSSIA

Israel, Europe bolster energy alliance as they look to isolate Russia
EU president says Russia poses a threat to sovereign rights, democracy and energy security
By Caitlin McFall
Fox Business News
June 15, 2022

https://www.foxbusiness.com/politics/israel-europe-energy-alliance-isolate-russia

The European Union touted its relationship with Israel on Tuesday as a leading contributor in its push to become energy independent from Russia.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said during a trip to Israel that Russia's war in Ukraine has heightened the global threat to national sovereignty, democratic values and climate change.

"In a war against democracy, we all have a stake, she said speaking from Ben-Gurion University. "The Kremlin has used our dependency on Russian fossil fuels to blackmail us. And since the beginning of the war, Russia has deliberately cut off its gas supplies to Poland, to Bulgaria, to Finland, to Dutch companies, to Danish companies, in retaliation for our support to Ukraine."

The EU announced earlier this month that it will block 90 percent of Russia's oil exports by the end of the year and vowed to address the additional 10 percent as quickly as possible -- a pledge that has left many wondering where Europe's energy supplies will come from instead.

"The Kremlin's behavior only strengthened our resolve to break free of our dependency on Russian fossil fuels," von der Leyen said. "We are now exploring ways to step up our energy cooperation with Israel."

The EU and Israel have looked to launch the world's longest and deepest underwater power cable that will connect power grids from Israel to Cyprus and Greece.

The EuroAsia Interconnector, which was first launched in 2010 and is expected to be completed by 2025, will utilize more "efficient methods" in power generation by relying on natural gas and renewable energy resources.

"This will, over time, be electrification from renewable energies," she said. "That is where the investment has to go into. You have an abundance of these natural resources to produce renewable energy."

A second Israel-EU initiative, known as the EastMed Pipeline which is expected to be completed as early as 2025, will also funnel gas and clean hydrogen throughout the eastern Mediterranean.

"This is an investment in both Europe's and Israel's energy security," von der Leyen said. "This infrastructure will also contribute to decarbonizing our energy mix."

The EU president said the alliance not only exemplified "democracies sticking together" amid the greatest threat to Europe since World War II, but against the threat of climate change.

"This is the big looming crisis in the background," she added.

 

ISRAEL TO HELP EUROPE WITH GAS, BENNETT SAYS AFTER DRAGHI TALKS

Israel to help Europe with gas, Bennett says after Draghi talks
Italian premier thanks Israel for Ukraine mediation
Italian news agency ANSA
June 14, 2022

https://www.ansa.it/english/news/politics/2022/06/14/israel-to-help-europe-with-gas-bennett-after-draghi-talks_d190f914-c44c-4361-ba37-971ef50698ac.html

ROME - Israel is set to help Europe to obtain alternative sources of gas to Russia following Moscow's invasion of Ukraine, Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said as he made a joint statement with Italian Premier Mario Draghi after a meeting in Jerusalem.

"Israel will be able to help Europe, producing natural gas, and this is excellent news," he said.

Draghi thanked Israel for its attempts at mediation regarding the Ukraine war.

"The Italian government will continue to work for a ceasefire as soon as possible and peace negotiations, on the terms that Ukraine considers acceptable," Draghi said.

"Italy supports, and will continue to support, Ukraine and its desire to be part of Europe".

Draghi said he had discussed with Bennett Russia's blockade of Ukrainian ports, which is stopping grain exports leaving the country, and the ensuring "risk of a food catastrophe".

"We must work with the utmost urgency (to have) safe corridors for the transport of grain," he said.

"We have very little time because in a few weeks the new harvest will be ready and it could be impossible to store it".

Draghi described Israel as a "friend" of Italy's and a "fundamental partner," adding that "we want to strengthen our collaboration further".

 

FACING GAS 'BLACKMAIL' BY RUSSIA, EU TURNS TO ISRAEL

Facing gas 'blackmail' by Russia, EU turns to Israel
AFP
June 15, 2022

Speaking at Ben Gurion University in Be'er Sheva, EU chief Ursula von der Leyen Europe was looking for ways 'to step up our energy cooperation with Israel' after Russia 'deliberately' cuts off its gas supplies to 'Poland, Bulgaria and Finland, and Dutch'

The European Union wants to strengthen its energy cooperation with Israel in light of Russia's use of gas supplies to "blackmail" its members over the Ukraine conflict, European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen said Tuesday.

Her remarks came as Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi, also visiting Israel, said Rome was seeking to boost gas supplies from Israel as EU members eye options to diminish their reliance on Russian energy.

"The Kremlin has used our dependency on Russian fossil fuels to blackmail us," von der Leyen said in a speech at the Ben Gurion University in the southern city of Be'er Sheva.

"Since the beginning of the war, Russia has deliberately cut off its gas supplies to Poland, Bulgaria and Finland, and Dutch and Danish companies, in retaliation for our support to Ukraine."

But Moscow's conduct "only strengthens our resolve to break free of our dependence on Russian fossil fuels," she said, noting the EU was "exploring ways to step up our energy cooperation with Israel," with work on an underwater power cable and a gas pipeline in the eastern Mediterranean.

Israel exports gas to Egypt, some of which is then liquefied and shipped to Europe. A significant increase in gas exports would require major long-term infrastructure investments.

In talks with Energy Minister Karine Elharrar on Monday, von der Leyen reiterated "the EU need for Israeli gas," the minister's spokesperson said.

The spokesperson said there had been talks since March on establishing the legal framework to enable more Israeli gas exports to Europe via Egypt.

Another option would be the EastMed project, a proposal for a seafloor pipeline linking Israel to Greece and Italy via Cyprus.

But U.S. President Joe Biden's administration has questioned the viability of the project, given its huge cost and the time it would take to complete.

Speaking alongside Prime Minister Naftali Bennett in Jerusalem, Draghi said Italy and Israel were "working together on the use of gas resources from the eastern Mediterranean and for the development of renewable energy".

"We want to reduce our dependence on Russian gas, and accelerate the energy transition towards the climate goals we have set ourselves," Draghi added.

LEBANESE MARITIME DISPUTE

Bennett described Europe's need for alternative gas supplies as "good news."

An Israel-Turkey pipeline project, estimated to require three years and $1.5 billion, is another option to get Israeli gas to European markets.

Bennett directed fresh criticism at Israel's northern neighbor, Lebanon, with which it remains technically at war.

The two countries have a long-running maritime border dispute and Washington has been brokering talks aimed at demarcating a border and allowing both sides to ramp up exploration.

Lebanon had backed away from the talks, but Israel has urged Beirut to re-engage.

"I look forward to the day Lebanon will decide to take advantage of the natural gas in its economic water," said Bennett.

"It's a shame that Lebanon's leadership, instead of extracting gas for its people, is busy fighting internally and externally," he added.

Israel is estimated to have gas reserves of at least one trillion cubic metres, with domestic use over the next three decades expected to total no more than 300 billion.

 

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All notes and summaries copyright © Tom Gross. All rights reserved.