Middle East Minuet - Israel dances with Cyprus and Egypt

July 6, 2015

Othello was inflamed with jealousy on the Mediterranean Island of Cyprus which is southwest of Turkey, West of Lebanon and Israel, North of Egypt and East of Greece. Cyprus was occupied by Egyptians, Persians, Greeks, Byzantines, and Crusaders before it fell under Ottoman rule. After WWI it became part of the British Empire; and gained independence in 1960.

Turkey invaded Cyprus in 1974 taking control of the northern third of the island, declaring independence, and calling itself the Turkish Republic of Northern of Cyprus; which is not recognized by the United Nations nor any country except Turkey.

Egypt is one of the world’s oldest nations. Cleopatra was Queen before the birth of Christ. Egypt is on the northeast corner of Africa bordered by Gaza and Israel to the north, the Gulf of Aqaba and the Red Sea to the east, and the Sudan and Libya. Over the centuries it has assimilated influences of the Greek, Persian, Roman, Arab, and Ottoman Empires. After WWI it fell under the protectorate of Britain and was granted independence in 1922.

Israel’s first kings were Saul, David, and Solomon. King Saul united the Jews after the Ark of the Covenant was stolen around 1025 BC. King David was the shepherd that killed Goliath, became a warrior king, and returned the Ark. King Solomon was known as the “Wisest of Men”, built the Temple, and wrote parables. Before WWI the area that is now Israel was under Ottoman domain. In 1917 the Balfour Declaration pledged a Jewish homeland. Israel became an independent state in 1948.

The  dance steps follow:

Mediterranean Sea Maritime borders between Cyprus and Egypt were demarcated in 2003 and with Israel in 2010. Turkey disputes these maritime borders; and threatens military action.

Houston based Nobel Energy and Delek Group, an Israeli conglomerate, submitted a development plan to Cyprus in June 2015, which would float production storage and offloading vessels over Aphrodite close to the Maritime border with Israel.

Israeli cooperative gas development was blocked by Anti Trust Commissioner David Gilo. Prime Minister Netanyahu declared gas development to be a national security priority and the Commissioner Gilo resigned.   The Cabinet gave unanimous approval for Netanyahu.   Houston based Noble Energy and Israel’s Delek Group are consortium partners. Immediately Nobel Energy went to Egypt for talks of exporting Israeli gas.

Leftist Member of the Knesset, Zehava Galon launched an attack suggesting that American philanthropist Sheldon Adelson had contacted Netanyahu to influence the natural gas issue.  She called for Netanyahu to be forced out of gas negotiations.   Adelson responded “I never had any discussions, in writing, in person, or by telephone with the Prime Minister regarding any gas company.    I hope that Israel becomes energy independent and an energy exporter, but so does every Israeli and every Jew around the world.  I don’t even know Noble Energy.  This is all a complete fabrication and 100% false.”

After examination Dina Zilber, Deputy Attorney General, rejected efforts to keep the Prime Minister from being involved in Israel’s natural gas deal.  It was determined that accusations were without merit. 

Aphrodite is Cyprus’s offshore gas field, valued at approximately 400 Billion EUR. Noble and Delek own the license on Aphrodite. Delek is in the process of increasing its stake in Aphrodite reserves to 49%. Gas demand for Cyprus is small, and export is an obvious option.

At the Egyptian Sharm al-Sheikh economic summit in March a memorandum of understanding between the Egyptian Natural Gas Holding Company and the Cyprus Hydrocarbons Company was signed. A final deal is expected in less than 6 months.

President Nicos Anastasiades replaced Demetris Christofias, a communist educated in Moscow and a fluent Russian speaker, two years ago. It is believed that Russia’s spy agencies are active in Cyprus and involved in weapons smuggling to Syria and Lebanon from Iran.

Egypt struggles to deal with domestic energy demand. It is an obvious destination for Aphrodite gas. Last month Egyptian President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi expressed interest in cooperation during his first visit to Cyprus.

Although gas import from Israel is sensitive to Egyptians, relations between Egypt and Israel have improved under President Al Sisi. Both countries have an interest in containing the Hamas Islamist movement and in maintaining stability in the Sinai.

President Anastasiades visited Prime Minister Netanyahu in Jerusalem last month, and strategic energy relations between Cyprus and Israel were upgraded.

Israel and Cyprus could also deliver their gas to Europe via the Azerbaijani pipeline infrastructure; however Turkey is in conflict with Israel, Cyprus, and Egypt which prevents this. There is also talk regarding an undersea pipeline to Greece which could deliver gas to Europe. Reducing European dependence on Russian energy would have enormous impact on geo politics. It could change votes in the United Nations Security council regarding Russia and Iran.

The Minuet was used to teach children etiquette. It is a slow dance with more than 100 steps and many partners. It seems what Israel, Cyprus and Egypt are doing now as they work towards formal maritime gas field cooperation.

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The internationally published writer is a former English teacher, stockbroker, and owner/president of a small corporation.  She is active with Republican Women Federated, The Coachella Valley Lincoln Club, The California Republican Party, and Armed Services YMCA- 29 Palms Marine Base.  She can be reached at  darlenecasella@msn.com