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Conflicting Egyptian statements about procuring gas from Israel

February 5, 2014 at 1:47 am

The visit to Cairo by Cypriot President Nicos Anastasyades has stirred up a big row over the issue of Egyptian importation of Israeli gas via Cyprus. The cause of the confusion has been the contradiction between the statements made to the press today by Egyptian Prime Minister Dr Hazem Beblawi with earlier statements made by the oil minister in his cabinet.

In his press conference at the cabinet office in Cairo today, Beblawi stressed in the aftermath of his meeting with the Cypriot President that the talks did not ever touch on the issue of Egypt’s importation of Israeli gas via Cyprus.

Today’s statements by Beblawi are also contradicted by information reported by Anatolia News Agency quoting a prominent official at the Egyptian Ministry of Petroleum as saying that Egypt “proposed to the southern part of Cyprus buying quantities of gas as well as the liquefaction at Egyptian liquefaction plants of the gas discovered in Cypriot gas field in the Mediterranean.” This statement reinforces suspicion that the gas they are talking about is Israeli because Cyprus is not yet ready for export.

The Egyptian official, whose identity Anatolia withheld upon his request, explained that Cairo “is seeking to liquefy the Cypriot gas at the plants located in Dumyat and Idco on the Mediterranean coast in the north of Egypt.” He added: “We have a huge unutilised capacity for the liquefaction of gas at these two plants. Cypriot gas production companies may make use of these facilities. All is needed is a pipeline the cost of which would be much less than the cost of building new liquefaction units in Cyprus itself.”

These assertions concur with the previous statements made by Egyptian Petroleum Minister Sharif Ismail in which he said his country “decided to enter into serious negotiations with Cyprus in exchange for utilising the crude located in the Idco region.”

It is worth mentioning that Cyprus cannot at present export gas. This is what prompted a number of energy experts to believe that the gas to be exported to Egypt is Israeli gas with a Cypriot tag. This is particularly so in the wake of the statements made by Israeli Infrastructure Minister Silvan Shalom and his predecessor Binyamin Eleizer in which they confirmed that Israel is seeking to export gas to Egypt, Jordan, the Palestinian Authority and Europe after processing it at the Egyptian specialised liquefaction facilities located in Dumyat. An informed source told “Arabi 21” earlier that the visit by the Cypriot President to Cairo on Thursday was aimed at finalising discussions on this issue.

The Washington Institute for Near East Studies had previously issued a scientific study about the export of Israeli gas. Simon Henderson, a researcher specialised in energy affairs was quoted as saying that one of the important options for the export of Israeli gas would be the utilisation of Egyptian liquefaction facilities. He added that the Israeli company “Dilik” informed Tel Aviv Stock Exchange last August that it had conducted discussions about pumping Israeli gas to Egyptian liquefaction plants via a pipeline extending from Ashkelon to Arish. Such a project, according to Henderson, would have been impossible under President Morsi but it has now been under consideration since the army toppled President Morsi.