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AP: Gas Forum Marks First Time Israel Accepted into Regional Alliance with Arabs

The formation of the Eastern Mediterranean Gas Forum marks the first time Israel has been accepted into a regional alliance with Arab nations, the Associated Press reported Wednesday.

The creation of the forum — consisting of Israel, Egypt, Jordan, Cyprus, Greece, Italy and the Palestinians — was announced earlier this month in Cairo.

The goal of the forum is to cut costs of infrastructure and generally to make the export of natural gas less expensive.

“The discovery of significant gas fields in the eastern Mediterranean has also political value because it brings all of us … together to cooperate with each other,” Israeli Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz told the  AP during his visit to Cairo. Steinitz also termed the forum the “most significant economic cooperation” between Israel and Egypt in the 40 years since the two nations signed a peace treaty.

In explaining why Israel is being welcomed into the regional group, the AP observed that the Jewish state’s neighbors have “increasingly come to see Iran and Turkey, rather than Israel, as their greatest rivals.”

Israel is expected to begin exporting natural gas to Egypt later this year as part of its $15 billion, ten-year, 64 billion cubic meters of gas deal with its southwestern neighbor. The gas, which will initially be taken from the Tamar field, and later from the larger Leviathan field when it comes online, is expected to make Egypt into “a regional energy hub,” the AP reported.

Israel already exports gas to Jordan and the Palestinian Authority.

“This gives Israel an additional element to its relations with its neighboring countries. When you add an economic facet to the security cooperation it strengthens the bond and gives it stability,” said Oded Eran, a former Israeli ambassador to Jordan, who is currently affiliated with Israel’s Institute of National Security Studies.

In addition to Israel’s growing ties with its Arab neighbors, the discovery of natural gas has also boosted Israel’s ties with Greece and Cyprus.

Last month, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met with Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras and Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades for the leaders’ trilateral fifth summit since 2016. The three have increased their cooperation in developing natural gas resources, in addition to extending their partnership to other areas, including security cooperation.

[Photo: Noble Energy / YouTube ]