BESA Center Perspectives Paper No. 370
EXECUTIVE SUMMARY: Israel should rule out building a natural gas pipeline to Islamist Turkey because of the political risk involved. It should instead consider using LNG technology for export through Cyprus. Although this would be expensive, it would be a less risky and more durable option over the long term. This should be in addition to exporting to Jordan and possibly to Egypt.
As Israel begins closing deals for its natural gas, it should avoid linking itself to any expensive long-term pipeline deal with Turkey at the expense of allies Cyprus, Greece, or even Egypt.
Notwithstanding the recent easing of tensions between the two countries, Israel cannot trust Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s Islamist regime as a linchpin in its natural gas export strategy.
A crisis could erupt at any moment that might cause Erdoğan, an erratic anti-Semite, to stop the gas from flowing, essentially holding Israel hostage. The trigger could be a new war with Hamas-ruled Gaza, which is allied with Turkey, or a general escalation in violence with the Palestinians, or any of a host of other unexpected incidents. The deterioration of the already cool relationship is only a matter of time.
The recent improvement in ties between Israel and Turkey must be viewed within the context of the poor relations Ankara had with Russia and other states at the time, and should not be viewed as reflecting any real change in Erdoğan’s attitude toward Israel.
Turkey experienced a crisis in its relations with Russia after Turkey’s air force downed a Russian fighter jet near its border with Syria last November. The crisis had Turkey scrambling, as it depends on Russia for over half its gas needs and over 12% of its oil. Turkey also has tense relations with the US and the EU, as well as with various Arab states that oppose its support for Islamists in their countries.
The subsequent rapprochement between Turkey and Russia changes the picture, and will give Erdoğan a freer hand to dispose of the Israel relationship as he sees fit. In addition, there are various other countries from which Turkey can receive gas, including Russia and Iran. Turkey would therefore have leverage in any gas deal with Israel.