Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Turkey and Israel: interests over grudges

Turkish media reported this week that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's apology has paved the way for a massive joint pipeline project carrying natural gas from Israel to Turkey and from there to Europe. There is no overestimating the influence joint economic interests can have on stable relations between countries.
It is said that during a private conversation, Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion once thanked French President Charles de Gaulle for France's help to Israel, attributing it to the strong alliance and friendship between the two countries. To which De Gaulle replied, "France has no friends, only interests." 

Turkey too has interests.
Despite Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan's seeming attempts in recent years to turn Israel from a friend to an enemy, especially since the Mavi Marmara incident, it turns out that our common economic interests have been maintained and even gained momentum. It would be safe to say that beneath the outward hostility, a lot of positive energy has been flowing between the two countries. 

Energy, as in energy markets, that is. Over six months ago a modest ceremony was held at the Azrieli Center, during which the Edeltech Group Ltd. marked the securing of financing for two electricity cogeneration power plants in Ashdod and Ramat Negev. These stations are expected to produce about 200 megawatts, on top of the 830 megawatts to be produced by the Dorad power plant in Ashkelon, which is in the final stages of construction.
Two additional power plants are in the offing, Solad and Tamar, which will add about 200 megawatts to the market. Together, these power plants would increase Israel's electricity producing ability by about 10 percent.
The senior partner of Edeltech, Ahmet Zorlu, is the owner of Zorlu Holding, the second largest holding company in Turkey. Zorlu of course took part in the ceremony, along with his partners and family members. Israel's success is his gain. Every intelligent person knows that Zorlu, like many others who do business in Israel, invests his money in Israel with the permission of the Turkish government. Zorlu Holding is the company that, along with Edeltech Group Ltd., has pushed for the pipeline exporting gas from Israel to Turkey. If and when it is established, the pipeline could carry gas worth $5 billion to $6 billion per year. Turkey would benefit from the ready availability of gas it lacks at present, as well as earn money from the transport of gas to Europe. Israel would benefit from an efficient, quick and cheap solution compared to the alternative, which involves liquefying gas for export.
The economic advantage is clear, as are the strategic and diplomatic advantages. We should remember that the East Mediterranean Gas Company's agreement to sell gas by pipeline from Egypt to Israel is considered the anchor of our relations with that country. The weakness of the agreement from Israel's point of view is that Egypt has control over the gas valve. The great thing about the Israeli-Turkish pipeline is that both countries have control. Israel has the right to open and close the valve while Turkey controls access to Europe. This is a win-win situation.
When President Barack Obama melted our hearts with his statement "you are not alone," he repeated De Gaulle's lesson to Ben-Gurion: Countries do not have friends or enemies, they have interests. Obama made the phone call, Netanyahu said what was required, and Erdoğan played hard to get. Thank God common interests prevailed, and the new pipeline will transport an abundance of positive energy.

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