Regional experts say an Israeli-backed plan to connect Cyprus and Turkey along a new gas pipeline could benefit the long-divided island.
By Menekse Tokyay for Southeast European Times in Istanbul -- 17/10/13
Israel has proposed a new gas pipeline that would link Turkey and Cyprus. [AFP]
Israel's efforts to establish gas pipelines to Turkey and Cyprus have triggered hopes that co-operation in the energy sector could help resolve the nearly four-decade division of Cyprus.
The small Mediterranean island has been partitioned between Turkey and Cyprus since 1974.
Michael Lotem, Israel’s energy envoy, revealed the pipeline plan in September during a conference in Paphos with energy executives. It includes an energy facility to run Israeli gas exports to Cyprus and to the national grid in Turkey.
Following the conference, Hugh Pope, the International Crisis Group's (ICG) Turkey-Cyprus project director, wrote that the offer will avoid many of the chronic problems between Cyprus and Turkey.
"A shorter western arm would go to Cyprus, and a longer northern arm would go to Turkey. One Israeli official suggested 4-5 billion cubic metres of gas goes to Cyprus as soon as possible, and some 8-10 billion cubic metres a year goes to Turkey when that pipeline is financed and built," Pope wrote on the ICG's blog.
Praxoula Antoniadou Kyriacou, former minister of energy of Cyprus, said countries in the eastern Mediterranean need to work toward resolving past problems, in order to capitalise on opportunities for future economic growth and prosperity.
"A win-win outcome would be the peaceful co-operation between all of the hydrocarbon-rich countries of the area toward rendering the area of the eastern Mediterranean a major supplier of natural gas to Europe," Kyriacou told SETimes.
"In order that this is achieved, the resolution of problems in the relations between Turkey, Cyprus and Greece, as well as of the problems between Israel and the Arab countries is necessary. Encouragement can be offered from each of the countries of the area to the others, yet common sense should suffice to prove that more money can be made by all if we resolve the past and move forward, than if we persist to remain buried in it," she added.
Experts say all sides embrace regional peace opportunities in which every party benefits. Previous negotiations between Cyprus and Turkey have not been successful, but a new round of talks is slated to begin this month. Neither has announced a willingness to approve a gas pipeline.
Ahmet Sozen, who has more than 20 years of experience in Cyprus peace-building initiatives and heads the political science and international relations department at TRNC’s Eastern Mediterranean University, said the peace process must be based upon official negotiations between the two communities, implementation of confidence-building measures, and anchoring Cyprus into broader regional co-operation.
Sozen said the discovery of the hydrocarbons in the eastern Mediterranean represents an opportunity to solve the Cyprus problem by providing the island a basis for broader regional co-operation.
"In that regard, how the Israeli gas -- the only proven high quantity in the region -- will be utilised in the future, separate or in combination with the Cypriot gas, is very important that can change the arithmetic in the Cyprus equation," Sozen told SETimes.
Sozen added that the primary challenge is to convince Greek Cypriots of the benefits, because Turkish Cypriots are eager to start sharing the island's natural resources.
"Israel's challenging Turkey and Cyprus to make a choice between perpetuating the stalemate or having a share in the natural gas riches is a good strategy that has the potential to break the years-long misperceptions and taboos between the Greek Cypriots and Turkey. This strategy can also facilitate the inter-communal peace negotiations in the island," Sozen said.
Sozen suggested starting with a pipeline between Israel and Turkey and another one from Israel to a liquefied natural gas (LNG) plant in Cyprus, which can solve both the security concerns of Israel as well as the concerns of the Greek Cypriots, who are reluctant to depend on a pipeline that goes through Turkey.
"However, when the Cyprus problem is resolved and the relations of the relevant sides are normalised, another pipeline from the Cyprus LNG plant to Turkey can very well be built and all sides can have diversified ways of transferring the natural gas to the world markets in a cost-effective way. Such an arrangement will inevitably create an interdependent relationship between Turkey, Israel and the united Cyprus -- a sort of region of perpetual peace a la the European Union," Sozen said.
Emre Iseri, a Cyprus expert at Izmir-based Yasar University, said an Israel-Cyprus-Turkey pipeline proposal has been based on the idea of a "peace pipeline" that has previously failed to gain traction.
"This is mainly due to the fact that politics, not economics, determines the future of huge energy investments, such as pipelines," Iseri told SETimes.
"Economically speaking, everyone will be a winner in the case that the Israel-Cyprus-Turkey pipeline project is materialised," he added. "It will not only meet Turkey's increasing natural gas demand and underpin its prospects to become an energy hub, but also contribute to the crisis-torn economy of the Greek Cypriot."
How can economic partnerships like the proposed gas pipeline help to ease tensions on Cyprus? Share your thoughts in the comments section.