Cyprus, Greece, Israel Alliance Serves U.S. Interests
The Times of Israel By Endy Zemenides and David Harris March 28, 2019
Long ago, the Mediterranean was known as theMiddle Sea because for centuries it provided the principal means ofcommunication between empires and civilizations. Today’s Mediterranean isreclaiming much of that historic legacy.
The limitless potential of the region was on full displayduring the sixth trilateral summit among Cyprus, Greece, and Israel that tookplace in Jerusalem last week. The gathering was especially noteworthy becausethe United States, represented by Secretary of State Pompeo, also participatedfor the first time.
American strategic interests face challenges around theEastern Mediterranean basin. The Shia-Sunni divide that has helped put theMiddle East in even deeper turmoil is playing out on its shores, with theinvolvement of both state and non-state actors.
Turkey once a paragon of stability and a source of greatoptimism for many in the West - has become increasingly authoritarian andunreliable. President Erdogan’s strong-arm leadership has turned a “zeroproblems with neighbors” foreign policy into one where Ankara has zeroneighbors with which it doesn’t have problems.
And two interlocking crises, one economic and the otherinvolving migration, have roiled the European Union, starting with its memberstates along the Mediterranean.
Facing an unprecedented number of foreign policy flashpoints,the U.S. risks being spread too thin to adequately address the challenges inthe region and protect American interests. This is precisely where Israel,Greece and Cyprus come in.
First, there’s values affinity it is in American nationalinterests to support like-minded societies. For too long, Washington has had tolook to states with questionable democratic credentials as its “go-to” partnersin the region. This tripartite alliance of solid Western democracies breaks themold.
Second, Cyprus, Greece, and Israel provide important assetsfor Western security interests. Each state has already made substantialcontributions on its own but taking their growing cooperation and coordinationon counter-terrorism, counter-proliferation, search-and-rescue and maritimesecurity to the next level will make the Eastern Mediterranean and southeastEurope safer.
Souda Bay Naval Base in Greece and the British bases in Cyprusmake these countries especially valuable for Western security interests, andexpansion in both could allow the U. S., if needed, to decrease its reliance onthe Incirlik base in volatile Turkey. Meanwhile, the U.S.-Israel strategic linkis both deep and wide-ranging.
Finally, there are the recent major discoveries of naturalgas and ambitious plans for new underwater pipelines. American companies Noble and ExxonMobil are already the most significant players in the ExclusiveEconomic Zones of Israel and Cyprus. Just three weeks ago, ExxonMobil announcedthe world’s third-biggest gas find in the last two years off the coast ofCyprus.
Combining this discovery with existing Noble finds in Israeland Cyprus, the Zohr field in Egypt, and anything resulting from upcomingexploration in the region by ExxonMobil, TOTAL, and ENI could have importantgeopolitical, environmental, and economic consequences. That these resourcesmay be delivered to European markets through the planned East Med Pipelinemakes Western democracies primary players in the region’s energy politics.
In the short term, these natural gas finds will help EasternMediterranean countries transition away from crude as a source of electricitygeneration and could provide economic stimulus for countries such as Cyprus,Egypt, Greece, and Jordan that are emerging from economic crises or, in anycase, sorely need a boost. Moreover, they provide an alternative to riskydependence on Russian gas, not only for Eastern Mediterranean countries, but alsofor the Balkans and Italy.
In the long term, energy diplomacy has the potential totransform the Eastern Mediterranean from a mere geographical designation to avital political and economic entity. We have long argued that EasternMediterranean natural gas could be the “steel and coal of the 21st century,”recalling the founding basis of what is today the European Union.
Just as the interdependence of coal and steel helped endcenturies of conflict in Western Europe, energy and electricity could begin tomove the Eastern Mediterranean away from an era of wars, terrorism, andinsecurity.
That potential was evident when the first annual EasternMediterranean Gas Forum took place in Cairo at the beginning of the year,forming an OPEC-like institution encompassing Cyprus, Egypt, Greece, Israel,Italy, Jordan, and the Palestinians.
The U.S. needs reliable allies, and for the first time in theregion’s history can look primarily to those who share both interests andvalues. Greece, Cyprus, and Israel are strong partners that can check maligninfluences in this region and the broader Middle East.
Washington should deepen American participation in thesetrilateral summits. And both the Administration and Congress, which already hasa Congressional Hellenic-Israel Alliance, should explore transforming thetrilateral cooperation into a quadrilateral partnership.
A more stable, energy independent and integrated EasternMediterranean will be a game-changer in this vital part of the world and couldserve as a model for future cross-border development far beyond.
Endy Zemenides is Executive Director of theHellenic American Leadership Council and David Harris is American JewishCommittee (AJC) CEO.