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US abandons plans for EastMed pipeline due to ‘destabilising’ regional tensions

January 12, 2022 at 4:00 pm

The platform of the Leviathan natural gas field in the Mediterranean Sea pictured from the Israeli northern coastal city of Dor on December 31, 2019 [JACK GUEZ/AFP via Getty Images]

The United States has seemingly abandoned support for a pipeline project in the eastern Mediterranean which aimed to transport Israeli gas to Europe through Cyprus, voicing its misgivings about such plans in the region.

In an unofficial document issued by the US government, revealed by Greek media outlets, Washington expressed its concerns that the project would be a “primary source of tension” and would have a “destabilising” effect.

The plans – known as the EastMed pipeline project – were agreed upon by Israel, Greece and Cyprus at the beginning of 2020, and aimed to build a pipeline harnessing the reserves of natural gas off the southern shores of Cyprus, which would supply gas from the eastern Mediterranean region to countries in Europe.

The former US administration of President Donald Trump also lent support those to plans, but Turkey condemned the agreement as an attempt to diplomatically and economically push Ankara out of the region and infringe on its energy and maritime rights. It led to Turkey’s regional dispute with Greece and Egypt, in particular, significantly exacerbating existing tensions at the time.

According to the Greek state-owned broadcaster ERT, the US’s non-paper listed the three reasons the government no longer supports the EastMed project as being environmental concerns, the lack of economic and commercial viability and the creation of tensions in the region.

The EastMed pipeline is another front in the encirclement of Turkey

Following the reports about the non-paper, the US Embassy in Athens issued a statement assuring that it still remains “committed to physically interconnecting East Med energy to Europe”, but that it supports “projects such as the planned EuroAfrica interconnector from Egypt to Crete and the Greek mainland, and the proposed EuroAsia interconnector to link the Israeli, Cypriot and European electricity grids”.

The reason the Trump administration supported the project was reportedly due to the need for Europe to diversify its energy supply away from Russia and towards others, such as Israel. According to the embassy statement, however, the current administration of President Joe Biden is changing that policy by shifting its focus on supporting both gas and renewable energy sources through electricity interconnectors.

Israel also reportedly harboured doubts about the viability of the EastMed project, as the cost will be over $7 billion, while Tel Aviv and Europe are instead planning to develop and depend on renewable energies in the future.

According to the London-based news outlet Middle East Eye, an anonymous Turkish official told it that Turkey was not surprised by the decision, saying “US officials never thought this project was feasible” and admitting that “We knew that they didn’t support it.”

As Washington retreats, Eastern Mediterranean conflict further marginalises NATO