Turkish minister says any gas project with Israel requires Erdoğan's approval

Turkish minister says any gas project with Israel requires Erdoğan's approval

Turkish Energy Minister Taner Yıldız. (Photo: AA)

February 15, 2013, Friday/ 11:37:00

Turkey's energy minister has said any joint project between Turkish companies and Israel requires the approval of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.

Taner Yıldız told Turkey's CNBC-E news channel in an interview that some conditions must be established to carry Israeli gas to Turkey, without elaborating on the type of conditions.

He said if these conditions, which will be put forward by Erdoğan, are not met, Turkey won't begin any gas project with Israel. It was not clear whether the energy minister was referring to state deals with Israel or if this also included private companies.  

Yıldız's remarks come at a time when Zorlu Group, one of Turkey's biggest holdings, is working hard to lobby Israeli authorities to approve a possible gas sale to Turkey despite icy relations between the two nations.

Israel's Haaretz claimed on Thursday that the Zorlu Group is planning to build an undersea pipeline from Israeli-owned offshore gas rigs to Turkey's south coast, which will be shortest and cheapest gas pipeline project Turkey has ever been part of.

The daily reported that the Turkish conglomerate has been working in recent months to convince the Israeli government and Israel's Leviathan gas field partners to approve energy exports to Turkey.

Turkey downgraded its relations with Israel following a raid by the latter on the Mavi Marmara, a ship that was part of an international aid flotilla that was attempting to breach an Israeli blockade of Gaza. Turkey said that relations between the two countries would only return to normal if Israel offered a formal apology for the resulting killings and paid compensation to the families of the victims. Israel has only expressed regret, saying that its soldiers had acted in self-defense. Months-long diplomatic efforts to mend relations have failed to produce an agreement.

Turkey imposed sanctions on Israel but commercial ties with the country are not affected. Turkey did not impose a trade embargo on Israel but suspended ongoing defense projects and purchases from Israeli defense firms.

Turkish contractors have undertaken more than 100 projects in Israel so far, worth a total of nearly $600 million. The largest Turkish investment in Israel is in the electric power plants the Zorlu Group is in the process of constructing. The group of companies has undertaken to build four power plants in Israel thus far.

Zorlu's plan is to lay an undersea pipeline from the Leviathan field 130 kilometers off Haifa to Turkey's south coast. The pipeline would deliver between 8 billion and 10 billion cubic meters of gas annually. The Zorlu Group has assets worth $1 billion in Israel.

It is still unclear how Turkish authorities will react to a possible pipeline between Israel and Turkey as Turkey vowed to boost naval patrols in the eastern Mediterranean last year in a deepening diplomatic feud with Israel and Greek Cyprus over gas finds.    

Erdoğan said last year that Turkey would make its presence felt in the eastern Mediterranean at a time when Israel is looking to exploit the two offshore gas fields and partner with Greek Cyprus to build energy facilities.    

The Leviathan gas drill, 130 km (80 miles) off the port of Haifa, is the world's biggest deepwater gas find in the past decade. Israel could earn at least $150 billion in gas revenues.    

Turkey does not recognize the Greek Cypriot government and has complained bitterly about its energy deals with Israel. Lebanon has accused Israel of breaking international law by exploring for gas without an agreement on the maritime border between the two countries, which are formally at war.

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