The crisis over Ukraine in 2022 has illustrated just how important the diversification of the sources of European gas had become and the urgency of finding alternatives to Russian gas, if only to reduce Moscow’s leverage over Europe and the NATO alliance. The EU Foreign Policy Chief, Josep Borrell, was able to voice a united policy for Europe already in January 2022, before Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, based on his view that “we must reduce our dependency on Russian energy.”1
In late 2021, roughly 40 percent of the EU’s natural gas imports came from Russia. In early March, President Joe Biden announced a ban on Russian oil and gas imports into the United States. The EU announced, in response, that it planned to reduce its imports of Russian natural gas by two-thirds by the end of 2022.2
While Washington sought alternative sources of energy products from Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, they declined to help at this stage, given the Biden administration’s policy on the Yemen War. Currently, other suppliers to Europe by pipeline include Norway (22%), Algeria (18%) and Azerbaijan (9%), but they cannot provide a substitute for Russian gas.3, 4
Coming up with a solution to the Russian gas question for Europe also has an Israeli angle.5 Russia ranks first in the world in the size of its natural gas reserves with 35 trillion cubic meters. It is followed by Iran and Qatar. The Eastern Mediterranean, as a whole, including Israel, has immense gas reserves that have been estimated to reach 10.8 trillion cubic meters of gas, or roughly 5 percent of the world’s gas reserves. This amount of gas has been estimated to be roughly equivalent to 76 years of gas consumption by the EU.
Israel’s share of the Eastern Mediterranean gas reserves alone amounts to 1 trillion cubic meters, which could reach 3 trillion cubic meters in the future, if all of Israel’s economic waters are explored and exploited.6
The new Israeli government headed by Prime Minister Bennett, unfortunately, modified Israeli energy policy; the Israeli Minister of Energy, Karine Elharrar, appeared to be adopting some of the preferences of the U.S. renewable energy industry. Indeed, she halted the granting of licenses for natural gas exploration for one year while her ministry devoted its efforts to work on renewable energy.
Despite the postponement of Israel’s gas pipeline to Europe by the Biden administration, for reasons that are not entirely clear, Israeli gas is still used for its Middle Eastern partners, particularly Egypt and Jordan. For the last decade Iran has been seeking to export its gas to Iraq and even Jordan, thereby extending its influence to Israel’s east.
With the anticipated improvement in Israeli ties to Turkey, Ankara could emerge as an export hub for Israeli gas in the future. Thus, in the aftermath of the war in Ukraine, there are multiple reasons why the work on the East Med pipeline must be resumed, along with gas exploration in the Eastern Mediterranean, as soon as possible. Moreover, increasing the supply of gas to the West will also help drive down its price, thereby undermining Russia’s ability to fund its war machine in the future.
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1 Thibault Spirlet, “Top diplomat Borrell: EU must reduce energy decency on Russia amid Ukraine conflict,” Politico, January 25, 2022.
2 Andrew Restuccia and Josh Mitchell, “Biden Bans Imports of Russian Oil, Natural Gas,” Wall Street Journal, March 8, 2022.
3 Georgi Kantchev, “Europe Fears It Could Be Too Late to Shake Off Russian Gas Addiction,” Wall Street Journal, March 5, 2022
4 “Can the US find enough natural gas sources to neutralize Russia’s energy leverage over Europe?” The Conversation, January 31, 2022.
5 Guy Lieberman, “Who wins and loses as energy minister halts gas exploration?” Globes, January 22, 2022.
6 Yuval Steinitz, Israel’s Gas Struggles (Yediot Ahronot Books, 2020), p. 303.