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EU looks to east Mediterranean as gas alternative to Russia

June 14, 2022 GMT
Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi, left, and Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett make a press statement at the prime minster's office in Jerusalem, Israel, Tuesday, June 14, 2022. Draghi is on two-day official visit to Israel and the Palestinian authority. (Abir Sultan/Pool via AP)
Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi, left, and Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett make a press statement at the prime minster's office in Jerusalem, Israel, Tuesday, June 14, 2022. Draghi is on two-day official visit to Israel and the Palestinian authority. (Abir Sultan/Pool via AP)
Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi, left, and Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett make a press statement at the prime minster's office in Jerusalem, Israel, Tuesday, June 14, 2022. Draghi is on two-day official visit to Israel and the Palestinian authority. (Abir Sultan/Pool via AP)
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Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi, left, and Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett make a press statement at the prime minster's office in Jerusalem, Israel, Tuesday, June 14, 2022. Draghi is on two-day official visit to Israel and the Palestinian authority. (Abir Sultan/Pool via AP)
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Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi, left, and Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett make a press statement at the prime minster's office in Jerusalem, Israel, Tuesday, June 14, 2022. Draghi is on two-day official visit to Israel and the Palestinian authority. (Abir Sultan/Pool via AP)

JERUSALEM (AP) — European leaders visiting Israel on Tuesday expressed hope that natural gas supplies from the eastern Mediterranean could help reduce dependence on Russia as the Ukraine war drags on.

Israel has emerged as a gas exporter in recent years following major offshore discoveries and has signed an ambitious agreement with Greece and Cyprus to build a shared pipeline. New supplies could help Europe ramp up sanctions on Moscow.

“On the energy front, we will work together in using gas resources of the eastern Mediterranean and to develop renewable energy,” Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi said at a joint press conference with his Israeli counterpart, Naftali Bennett.

“We want to reduce our dependence on Russian gas and accelerate energy transition toward the climate objectives we’ve given ourselves,” he said.

Bennett said Israel was working to make natural gas available for Europe. His office said the two leaders also discussed shipping natural gas to Europe through Egypt.

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European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen, who is also in Israel this week, affirmed Europe’s commitment to wean itself off Russian gas, saying Israel could help.

“We are now exploring ways to step up energy cooperation with Israel,” von der Leyen said.

In January, the European Union earmarked 657 million euros ($736 million) for the construction of a 2,000-megawatt undersea electricity cable that will link the power grids of Israel, Cyprus and Greece. Von der Leyen said it would be the deepest and longest such cable ever built.

In 2020, Greece, Israel and Cyprus signed a deal to build an undersea pipeline to carry gas from new offshore deposits in the southeastern Mediterranean to continental Europe.

The proposed project, with a rough budget of $6 billion, was expected to satisfy about 10% of the European Union’s natural gas needs. But it is fraught with political and logistical complexities.

At the time, Israeli officials said the EastMed pipeline would take up to seven years to build, touting its advantages as being less vulnerable to sabotage and not crossing many national borders.

The pipeline’s construction hasn’t yet begun and the EU is still conducting preliminary evaluations and cost estimations. In April, a U.S. envoy said it was too expensive, not economically viable and will take too long to provide an alternative to Russian gas.

Last year, the European Union imported roughly 40% of its gas from Russia. Countries have been struggling to reduce that dependency in order to sanction Russia over its ongoing invasion of Ukraine.

Israel has two major gas fields off its coast with an estimated 690 billion cubic meters of natural gas combined and continues to explore for more.