News Analysis: Israeli gas exports can hardly fill European energy gap left by Russia: experts

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by Xinhua writer Zhang Tianlang

JERUSALEM, June 19 (Xinhua) -- Ramping up gas exports from Israel to Europe, backed by the latest trilateral deal reached with the European Union and Egypt on expanding LNG shipments, can hardly fill the huge gap in energy supply to the European countries left by Russia, experts said.

Israel on Wednesday signed a memorandum of understanding with Egypt and the EU in Cairo to allow more Israeli gas to be liquefied in Egypt and then transported to Europe. Shortly after the signing ceremony, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen lauded the deal as "a big step forward in the energy supply to Europe."

The EU seems to have been striving to cut heavy reliance on Russian gas, with its latest such efforts seen in the respective meetings in Jerusalem on Tuesday with Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett by von der Leyen, the EU chief, and Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi.

The two major Israeli gas fields off its coast in the East Mediterranean, Tamar and the nearby Leviathan, supplied about 19.5 billion cubic meters in 2021, and 7.2 billion cubic meters of them were exported, Ofira Ayalon, a professor in environment and energy policy at the University of Haifa, told Xinhua.

However, that was only a fraction of the EU's 55 billion-cubic meter of gas imports from Russia last year, which account for 45 percent of the bloc's total gas imports, according to the International Energy Agency.

"For Europe, the Israeli gas export will not be a game-changer," Ayalon said. "What Israel can do is give or export only a small part of the European consumption."

The EU has been preparing for the risk of a complete Russian "gas cutoff" to the bloc, as its relations with Russia have deteriorated rapidly since the Russia-Ukraine conflict broke out in late February.

Russia has now cut off gas supplies to several EU members including Finland, Bulgaria and Poland over a gas-for-rubles payment dispute and has reduced maximum gas supply volumes to Germany through the Nord Stream pipeline by 40 percent.

For Israel, a large number of natural gas resources have been discovered in the eastern Mediterranean Sea over the past 20 years, enabling it to actively seek energy cooperation with neighboring countries.

After multiple rounds of negotiation, Israel, Egypt and the EU on Wednesday signed a five-year agreement in Cairo. But that is far from enough, experts said.

Adi Wolfson, an expert in sustainability at Shamoon College of Engineering in the southern Israeli city of Beer Sheva, said Israel and Egypt can hardly play a key role in solving the European energy crisis as they are not able to handle the whole European market in terms of capacity, infrastructure, and facilities.

Both experts agreed that exporting natural gas is beneficial for Israel geopolitically, as Israel has been exploring the possibility of boosting ties with other countries by promoting energy cooperation.

Israeli President Issac Herzog visited Turkey in March, the first such visit by an Israeli president in 14 years. After meeting with Herzog, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan told the media that Turkey was willing to promote energy cooperation with Israel, indicating that Israeli gas could be sent to Europe via Turkey.

Herzog's visit was hailed by Erdogan as a "new turning point" of the bilateral ties, which have been at a low level since 2010, while energy cooperation has been widely viewed as an important chance for both sides to break the ice. Enditem

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