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Eastern Mediterranean countries to boost energy ties

FILE: Egypt's Oil Minister Tarek el-Molla delivers his speech at the Mediterranean dialogues conference in Rome, Friday, Nov. 23, 2018.
(Claudio Peri/ANSA via AP)

Eastern Mediterranean countries including Egypt and Israel agreed on Monday to boost energy ties through the creation of a body to strengthen the gas market.

The decision came during a meeting bringing together seven energy ministers including those from Cyprus, Greece, Jordan, Italy and the Palestinian territories.

The "East Mediterranean Gas Forum" is to be based in Cairo, Egypt's energy ministry said, as it seeks to become a regional energy hub.

The forum will help in "the creation of a regional gas market that benefits the members through security of supply and demand," said a post-meeting statement from the ministry.

It also aims to "ensure competitive pricing, and promote improved commercial relationships".

A further meeting in April is due to determine the body's structure, with plans in the pipeline for other countries or international organisations to join as "observers".

On Sunday, Israel's Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz arrived in Cairo to attend the meeting in a rare visit to Egypt by an Israeli official.

Menahem Kahana (AFP/File)

"Developing gas reserves is not just financially and environmentally beneficial, but also geo-politically and diplomatically significant," Steinitz said in a statement issued by his office on Monday.

During talks between Steinitz and his Egyptian counterpart Tarek el-Molla, the pair discussed energy cooperation including plans for "exporting gas from Israel and Egypt to Europe."

Encouraged by the discovery of massive natural gas fields in the Mediterranean, Cairo has recently signed gas deals with neighboring Israel as well as Cyprus and Greece. 

Though Egypt used to be a major regional gas exporter in the region, with Israel being one of its clients, the tables have turned in recent years, owing to several factors – including, in Egypt, instability in the Sinai Peninsula region – where several large fields are located – due to the rise of the Islamist insurgent group Ansar Bait al-Maqdis, and in Israel, the discovery of large off-shore gas fields.

The Leviathan gas field discovered in 2010 off Israel's coast and set to begin production in 2019 is estimated to hold 18.9 trillion cubic feet (535 billion cubic meters) of natural gas, along with 34.1 million barrels of condensate.

AFP

In February, Israel and Egypt signed a "historic" $15 billion deal for the exchange of natural gas.

Israeli energy group Delek Drilling LP signed agreements with its US associate Noble Energy to supply 2.26 trillion cubic feet (64 billion cubic meters) of gas from Israel's Leviathan and Tamar offshore fields to the Egyptian firm Dolphinus over a 10-year period.

"This will bring billions of dollars to state coffers," Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyuahu said at the time, announcing the most significant deal with Egypt since it became the first Arab country to sign a peace treaty with Israel.

Israel and Egypt have had formal relations since the signing of a peace treaty in 1979, but their relations have often been defined as a "cold peace."

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