Netanyahu Visits Cyprus for Energy Talks
Energy Brief
18th February 2012

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu arrived in Cyprus on February 16 for talks with Cypriot President Demetris Christofias designed to further closer cooperation between the two East Mediterranean states in the development of their recent offshore natural gas discoveries. His is the first visit by an Israeli prime minister to Cyprus.

“The one area we are looking into now is the field of energy, gas findings,” Mr. Netanyahu said in Nicosia. “We are looking within the next two months to complete a joint study to see how we can transfer this cooperation in practical terms.”

The US firm Noble Energy has made several significant discoveries in the Israeli and Cypriot offshore. Last December Noble announced that it had discovered 7 trillion cubic feet of natural gas in Cyprus’ Block 12. Noble’s discoveries offshore Israel amount to some 25 trillion cubic feet. Together, the reserves add up to more than 900 billion cubic meters and more exploration work is planned. Last year, Noble and its Israeli partner, the Delek Group, proposed to the Cyprus government the construction of an LNG plant at Vassilikos on the island’s southern coast for the purpose of processing and exporting Israeli and Cypriot gas.

“We have to examine the question of LNG facilities,” Mr Netanyahu said, “this could be in the direction of Europe through Cyprus or could be in the direction of Asia through Israel. So all these possibilities have to be examined in terms of feasibility, in terms of economic sense, in terms of investment.”

Mr. Netanyahu’s visit came only days after Cyprus announced the opening of its second offshore licensing round, in which it is opening 12 blocks located south of the island to tender from international oil companies.

Turkey voiced its objection to the bidding round, claiming that it ignores the rights of Turkish-Cypriots and threatened to take steps to prevent foreign companies from exploring in areas where it has interests. Ankara has previously described the exploration activity carried out in the Eastern Mediterranean by Israel and Cyprus as illegal. Cyprus has replied that it has every right to explore in its territorial waters and will continue to do so. It has received international support in this respect.

Mr. Netanyahu’s visit to Cyprus follows a decline in Israel’s relations with Turkey over the last two years in the wake of Israel’s interception of a Turkish-led humanitarian flotilla meant to break the blockade of the Gaza Strip. Nine Turkish citizens died when Israeli commandoes boarded the ships and Ankara has demanded an apology that Israel has refused to extend.

Speaking to reporters during a press conference with Mr. Netanyahu, Cypriot President Christofias said the common goal of Cyprus and Israel “is the best possible utilization of these reserves for the benefit of the two peoples of the two countries, as well as for the consolidation of peace and stability in the region.”

Responding to comments made by Ankara, Mr. Christofias said: “It is not us that threatens Turkey. It is Turkey that threatens us–this is the problem. The true troublemaker is Turkey and not the cooperation between Israel and Cyprus.”