Over the past several years, the world discovered a region rich in energy supplies. Three large gas fields
have been discovered, and there is a possibility more will be discovered. These discoveries gained the
region great international attention and at the same time presented a notable geopolitical challenge to its
leaders, as these countries do not need this amount of energy locally and must overcome geographical and
political problems to be able to deliver the surplus production to energy-consuming countries, especially
the European market.
According to data of the US Geological Survey and companies involved in gas exploration in the Eastern
Mediterranean, the region floats above a lake of gas with an estimated stock of 122 trillion cubic feet of
natural gas and 1.7 billion barrels of oil reserves. Egypt’s share of this wealth is estimated at about 850
billion cubic metres, and Cyprus 140 billion cubic metres, while Israel holds 310 billion cubic metres and
was the first to find gas stocks in the depths of the eastern Mediterranean Sea in 2009.
The Eastern Mediterranean basin covers the extension of waters from the northern Egyptian coast
through Sinai, Israel, Lebanon, Syria and Cyprus to the Turkish southern coast. The last three discoveries
are the Leviathan field located 130 kilometres from the city of Haifa in Israel, the Aphrodite field located
just east of Leviathan off the coast of Cyprus, and the Zohr field in Egyptian waters, about 193 kilometres
north of Port Said. The fields respectively contain 19 trillion, seven trillion, and 32 trillion cubic feet of
Geography is not the only problem
This mass production, along with what is expected to be discovered in the future, overwhelms the local
need for gas. For example, the Israeli demand is completely fulfilled from the newly discovered Tamar gas
field, which is smaller to the newly discovered Leviathan. Everyone agrees on the necessity of opening a
passageway to export the abundant gas. The cheapest solution is to extend a pipeline from the east
Mediterranean to Turkey, from which the gas would move to southern and central Europe. The only
stumbling block in this route is that the proposed pipeline needs to pass through the territorial waters of
Cyprus and it is unlikely that the Turks would accept this, because they do not recognise the Republic of
Aside from this issue, the gas exported from the eastern Mediterranean would reach a market that is
already saturated with its gas needs, and these countries will be in direct competition with Russia, one of
the most important exporters of liquefied gas in the world.
In the presence of this political dilemma along with the geographical issues, an alliance of four countries
was formed, namely Israel, Cyprus, Greece, and the fourth of them was Egypt, in the face of a bloc that has
not yet been formed due to the internal conditions of its countries. The poles of this second bloc are
Turkey, which strives to be a regional centre for the export of energy to Europe, and by doing so it
transforms itself from an importing country or merely a distribution centre as it is now, into a source of
energy discovered in its territorial waters.
Syria is also concerned with the new discoveries in the East Mediterranean, but the current internal
conditions prevent it from participating in the current conflict. Lebanon’s recent moves also suggests that
it intends to enter the energy battle, as its Prime Minister Saad Hariri visited Turkey in early 2018, and
the Turkish Foreign Minister Chawish Oglu visited Beirut late last year to stress the importance of
economic cooperation between the two countries.
The fourth party in this supposed, suspended alliance is the Palestinian Authority, as Israel exploits the
offshore oil and gas fields located within the borders of the economic zone of the Gaza Strip, taking
advantage of the current Palestinian partition and the severe pressure that the sector is under due to the
blockade imposed on it. Moreover, the Palestinian Authority has been unable to confront Israel or to
demand Palestinian rights in the riches of the East Mediterranean until now.
The first alliance countries took a provocative step early last year by establishing a forum, The East
Mediterranean Gas, formed by Egypt, Israel, Greece, Cyprus, Jordan, Italy and Palestine and excluding
Turkey. This prompted Ankara to take measures and actions, the last of which was the signing of notes to
define the maritime borders with Libya last month, which sparked angry Egyptian, Greek and Cypriot
reactions. The Turkish harmony with the al-Sarraj government pushed the Turks to the furnace of war in
Libya between Khalifa Haftar, who is backed by Egypt and the UAE, and the internationally recognised
Government of National Accord in Tripoli. This massively raised tensions, especially between Egypt and
The latest escalation between Turkey, which is moving solo in the face of the quartet alliance, was
represented in the initial agreement signed by leaders in Greece, Cyprus and Israel on 2 January 2020,
which paves the way for extending the gas pipeline known as the East Med, with a length of 1,900
kilometres, to transport natural gas from the Eastern Mediterranean to Europe. The line runs from Israel
to Cyprus and from there to Crete before reaching its final destination on the mainland of Greece,
bypassing Turkey. Greece is responsible for delivering it to Italy and most of the Central and Southern
European gas importers, and it will be the main distribution centre for East Mediterranean gas instead of
Egypt and the offside goal
During his visit to the General Investment Authority in February last year, President Al-Sisi gave a brief
word about his management of Egyptian gas, describing his initial agreement with the leaders of Israel,
Greece and Greek Cyprus as achieving a goal, as he said literally: “We have scored a goal.” So, what is the
goal that al-Sisi scored? How can we understand it in the context of events in the East Mediterranean?
In December 2013 the al-Sisi administration demarcated the maritime border with Cyprus to preserve the
right of each country to explore and extract gas from within its regional borders, and Cairo was keen to
start actual work in the Zhor field and switch to self-sufficiency as soon as possible, then export the
In 2017 Egypt already started pumping gas from the Zohr field to the new land station in the Gameel area
of Port Said, with a production capacity of 350 million cubic feet per day, with plans to increase daily
productivity to approximately three billion cubic feet per day by 2020. This huge discovery turned Egypt
into a self-sufficient country of natural gas, after it was one of the countries importing it. This promising
news for Egyptians was followed by an Egyptian-Israeli agreement in 2018 to export Israeli gas to Egypt,
with a value of about $19.5 billion over 15 years, and thus Israeli gas would find a possible market in light
of the faltering of exports to Turkey and Greece technically and politically.
Egypt denied its relationship with the deal, claiming that it is an independent investor away from the
government, which is a very feeble justification for anyone who follows how important issues in Egypt are
managed. Then, a media spokesperson of the state talked about completing the deal in an attempt to
resolve some issues related to international arbitration imposed on the Egyptian side in favour of Israel.
The most important transformation however, that was caressing the imagination of Egyptian politicians
was how Egypt could become a regional gas distribution centre, especially since its infrastructure is the
best in the region. There are two plants to liquefy natural gas in Egypt. The Edco plant which includes two
units for liquefaction and the other is in the city of Damietta, which belongs to the Spanish Italian Union
Fenosa and includes only one unit.
Egypt is promoting its own project to liquefy gas and extend it to Europe via a pipeline that extends from
it to Cyprus, Crete and Greece, but Israel, which fears the fluctuation of its relations with Egypt in the
future, is promoting a competing project by extending a pipeline under the Mediterranean from Cyprus
and Greece directly without passing through Egypt. Surrounding these two projects is a silent competition
between Egypt and Israel, as both of them seek to reach a rapid agreement with Cyprus, whose geography
enables it to access both projects without affecting its gains.
In December, Israel agreed with Cyprus and Greece to conduct a multi-million-dollar feasibility study for
the construction of an undersea pipeline with financial support from the European Union that wants to
get rid of the Turkish mediator who is currently the key for energy to Europe. This project will require
more than $7 billion to accomplish it. It also presents technical challenges due to the depth of the water.
The response of the Egyptian Minister of Petroleum and Mineral Resources Tariq Al-Mulla came quickly,
promoting his alternative plan basing it on producing liquefied natural gas in Egypt.
The agreement sought by Israel represented a strong slap to the current Egyptian regime, which is
considered the most compatible with the Israeli regime, and with its completion, the reality of the goal
that al-Sisi achieved in his cooperation with the trio, Israel, Greece and Cyprus, has become clear. The
bottom line is that Israel does not want to rely on Egypt to export its gas, nor does it wish to cooperate
with the Turkish regime, and thus seeks to cross them both directly to Greece. But the Turkish-Libyan
agreement to divide the maritime borders between them is a stumbling block as this tube cannot be
extended without Turkish approval. In addition, of course, is the time needed to study the project, which
is estimated to be at least two years.