Israel's Mediterranean Natural Gas Reserves May Fuel Deal To Restore Relations With Turkey

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Eastern Mediterranean
An Israeli gas platform is seen in the Mediterranean Sea, some 15 miles (24 km) west of the port city of Ashdod, Feb. 25, 2013. Israel's huge new offshore gas resource offers its enemies an obvious target and gives its navy, long overshadowed by other branches of the Israeli armed forces, a big job that will require extra spending.

Israel and Turkey may soon reach an agreement to renormalize relations after four years of diplomatic estrangement, and part of the deal could entail Israeli exports of natural gas.

On March 21, high-ranking Israeli and Turkish officials agreed to reopen their embassies in Tel Aviv and Ankara, nearly four years after Turkey downgraded relations with Israel in 2010, Today’s Zaman, a Turkish daily, reported Thursday. Israeli Prime Minister’s Benjamin Netanyahu's office said it had no public comment on Zaman’s report.

High-level talks between Turkey and Israel began in September after U.S. President Barack Obama called on the two longtime U.S. allies to restore full relations.

In May 2010, Israeli navy commandos took over the Mavi Marmara, a Turkish ship that was seeking to break an Israeli naval blockade of Hamas-controlled Gaza; nine Turkish pro-Palestinian activists were killed. Current negotiations concern the amount of compensation Israel will pay the families of the nine individuals killed.

That strain has affected efforts of Turkish energy companies to diversity Turkey's energy sources as they look to import Israeli natural gas via pipeline. But, at the same time, those energy resources are playing a role in negotiations between the two countries.

“Of course you have the problem between Turkey and Israel relations,” a Western source who is close to Turkish decision-makers told IBTimes. “But I am thoroughly convinced … we have a chance to see a package deal whereby Turkish-Israel relations and the pipeline agreement come together all in one.”

The Eastern Mediterranean is experiencing a natural gas boom with recent discoveries in the Levant Basin, a stretch of sea that extends from the coasts of Cyprus, Israel, Lebanon and Syria; it is estimated to contain 122 trillion cubic feet of gas. As a result, Israel is in the midst of a natural gas bonanza and ready to export the commodity to its neighbors.

In November, Turkey's Zorlu Energy has reportedly been in talks with Israeli firms. Also, Istanbul-based Turcas Holding last month offered Israel $2.5 billion to construct a 292-mile pipeline to bring natural gas from Israel to Turkey.

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