Israeli UAE diplomatic relations “hits the gas”

Israeli UAE diplomatic relations
What is at stake in the East Med as the UAE and Israel agree to diplomatic relations. Source: Cyprus Mail

While watching BBC coverage of the establishment of Israeli UAE diplomatic relations last night, I was struck by a comment that for the most part is likely to have gone unnoticed.

The BBC presenter mentioned, almost as an afterthought, that the new relationship would lead to financial investments and joint projects in technology development. The BBC mentioned only space exploration as an area, which the UAE is particularly eager to engage and, in which Israel is already active.

But there is something yet to be mentioned that, together with the defense industry, drives world capital flows, technology innovation and politics. I’m talking here about energy, something of which the East Med has plenty, in the form of offshore natural gas.

Now with the advent of Israeli UAE diplomatic relations the UAE joins Egypt and Jordan as Israel’s Arab allies in the region. Think about this and think about the cards that each of those allies brings to the table while also factoring in the behind the scenes diplomacy of the United States. It is a fascinating exercise.

A year ago in April, military pilots from the UAE participated in joint exercises over the East Med, literally flying fighter jets together and sending a signal to Turkey to back off on its claims to natural gas rich acreage offshore Cyprus. Also in April 2019, Greece, Cyprus and Jordan held a trilateral summit in Amman.

As it was reported then in a popular English language source of Greek news: “Tsipras, King Abdullah II of Jordan, and Cypriot President Nikos Anastasiades agreed on the need to cement cooperation in the fields of energy, agriculture, tourism, education, trade and ICT as well as to joint efforts to develop private sectors in the three countries.

“According to government sources during his meeting with King Abdullah, Tsipras praised Jordan and the King’s contribution to the addressing of regional problems. He said that Greece can become a bridge between Jordan and the European Union,” the Greek news site reported.

Fast forward to January 2020, when the governments of Greece, Israel and Cyprus signed an agreement to build a gas pipeline to supply 4% of European demand by 2025. The pipeline would stretch nearly 1,900 km from offshore gas fields in Israeli and Cypriot waters to Italy via Greece.

In its coverage of the intergovernmental deal, Aljazerra at the time noted: “The agreement is a statement of political will, but it is now up to the construction consortium, led by the Public Gas Corporation of Greece (DEPA) and Italy’s Edison, to find the roughly six billion euros ($6.7bn) the pipeline is estimated to cost.”

So who might be an ideal financial partner?

While you think about that last rhetorical question, let’s not forget the role that Egypt is likely to play in becoming the LNG gas hub in the East Med region. It all seems to fit together quite nicely.

The general news coverage notes that countries in the region, with U.S. diplomacy operating quietly in the background, seem to be forging a new spirit of cooperation. But the most important question to ask is “why” now? As any good journalist knows, to learn the “why” in any political dispute you simply have to follow the money. Unrest that is said to be caused by religious differences is almost never really about religious differences when you drill down to the very core of the disagreement.

The discovery of massive natural gas reserves in the East Med has been hailed for years as the key to peace in the region, and now finally parts of the puzzle are beginning to fall into place. We are starting to see the bigger picture. I think the next step might be to move towards an agreement for how the Palestinian side will also share in this wealth. Speculation that this will eventually happen has already appeared from time to time in the press, and when it does, peace will happen and (with due regard to our many religious differences) I think we will all “Thank God” for that!