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A gas deal brings Israel closer to Europe

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Originally published in Conservatives Global ...

Even today, 75 years after the end of World War II, there are Jews and Israelis who, when they mention the word “gas,” move uncomfortably. After all, gas is one of the horrific echoes of the Holocaust.

But at the same time, in recent years the word “gas” has taken on a much more positive meaning when it comes to reality.

Israelis are ambivalent towards the “land flowing with milk and honey.” True, this is a Divine promise, but for many years, Israel existed without natural resources. Israel advanced only thanks to human capital. Various Israeli governments have invested huge sums of money in order to find gas and other natural resources, but after decades of exploration, they gave up with little discovery and decided to give fairly cheap searching licences to anyone who was interested.

Within the first decade of the 21st century, the unbelievable happened: four significant gas fields were discovered. They changed the Israeli economy until the Corona crisis. Prior to the discovery, Israel imported gas from Egypt and was largely dependent on it. After this historic discovery, Israel began exporting gas not only to Egypt but also to Jordan – countries that were our bitter enemies in the past and became regional partners.

But even before that, it is important to emphasize that it was not easy. In 2010, the Left began demonstrating against the state’s agreement with the gas companies, claiming that it must be nationalised. Prime Minister Netanyahu did not acquiesce to these requests: as an ardent supporter of a free market, entrepreneurship and eliminating bureaucracy, he promoted a plan that increased corporate taxes on these companies while leaving them as fully private owned companies. Five years later, he even set a precedent: for the first time, an Israeli prime minister appeared before the Supreme Court to defend an agreement between the state and private companies.

The gas plan has led to historical changes not only regarding Israel’s position in the Middle East but also regarding Israel’s position in Europe. Cyprus and Greece, countries that were hostile to Israel in the past, have become allies. In this context, an agreement was signed between the three of them, the purpose of which is to build a gas pipeline from Israel to Europe.

This agreement is called EastMed. It is a historic agreement in which Italy joined the three countries and is sponsored by the European Union. It not only marks a reversal in relations between the signatory countries but also creates a counterweight to Turkey and Erdogan’s threats to act against the deal. After all, it will be difficult for anyone seeking to re-establish Ottoman Turkey to watch the countries he despises build a strategic gas pipeline, the longest in the world (about 1,900 kilometres – of which about 550 km is land and about 1,350 km is underwater) – that will allow the export of natural gas found in the economic waters of Israel and Cyprus to Europe. The pipeline will allow the entire eastern Mediterranean basin to be connected to a single export system.

The agreement between Israel and European countries has several advantages: First and foremost, competition is created with other gas suppliers to the continent. It also creates a diversity of gas supply sources and thus prevents exclusive dependence on a single source. This cooperation will strengthen ties between the countries and will clearly lead to additional collaborations, even in other industries. For example, the leaders of these three countries not only signed the gas agreement in January 2020 but also discussed strengthening cooperation in energy, homeland security, economy and tourism.

We do not know how the Corona crisis will end, but we do know collaboration begets collaboration. Cooperation may be the formula for rehabilitating economic life after the difficult days we face.