Israel officially joins regional gas forum
The cabinet authorized Israel’s membership in the new East Mediterranean Gas Forum (EMGF) on Tuesday, after resolving a dispute between ministers on the matter.
“The vision became a reality!” Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz tweeted, pointing out that he and his and Egyptian counterpart Tarek al-Mulla initiated the EMGF.
“The blessing of gas leads us to historic cooperation with Arab and European states that will only broaden, along with contracts to export natural gas to Jordan and Egypt worth tens of billions of dollars, and more to come,” Steinitz added.
Despite Israel’s key role in founding the EMGF, which held its first meeting via video conference in September, its official membership in the organization was held up due to opposition from Environmental Protection Minister Gila Gamliel.
Gamliel only lifted her objection after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu intervened, and told Israel Hayom that Steinitz reassured her he planned to raise environmental issues in the forum’s first meeting.
Steinitz’s spokesman, however, said that he “already raised the topic of the environment and the climate crisis a number of times, as did representatives of other countries and the EU, and there is no doubt these topics will continue to be part of the discussions going forward.
“It is strange that no European or Middle Eastern members of the forum had to clarify the obvious and no members of the organization tried to take advantage of the matter for media exposure, such as what happened in Israel,” the spokesman added, in an apparent accusation that Gamliel was using the matter for political gain.
A source in the Energy Ministry also pointed out that natural gas is an environmentally friendly energy and, thanks to gas finds in the Mediterranean Sea, Israel no longer burns coal, a major pollutant, for energy.
Gamliel wrote in her letter of objection that, earlier this month, Netanyahu promised that Israel would only use renewable energy sources by 2050. She said “Israel’s commitment must be given clear expression in the organization’s constitution.”
She also opposed the Palestinian Authority being given full membership in the EMGF, saying, “it cannot be that the PA, which funds terror and is hostile to Israel, will have equal standing to member states in the forum and could even head it.”
The EMGF held its first meeting in September, via video conference, with Greece, Cyprus, Jordan, the Palestinian Authority and Italy joining. France has also expressed interest in membership, and the US and EU seek to be observers.
Steinitz and al-Mulla first came up with the EMGF in 2017, following natural gas discoveries off the coasts of Israel and Egypt.
The joint declaration on the EMGF’s launch said it “aims to serve as a platform that brings together gas producers, consumers and transit countries to create a shared vision and establish a structured systematic policy dialogue on natural gas, leading to the development of a sustainable regional gas market and unlocking the full gas resource potential in the region for the benefit and welfare of its people.”
The forum also includes a Gas Industry Advisory Committee, an ongoing dialogue between governments and business partners, to help monetize the gas reserves.
The Energy Ministry said Israel’s membership in the forum will give it major advantages in promoting shared goals in the natural gas market’s development and help Israel export gas to its neighbors and to Europe.
On a diplomatic level, it could contribute to further normalization and ties between Israel and countries in the region, and improve Israel’s standing with countries with which it already has diplomatic relations.