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Despite divide over settlements, Israel expands energy cooperation with Egypt

Israel’s Energy Minister Israel Katz chose to travel to Egypt for his first visit abroad since taking office.
(From left to right) Israel's Energy Minister Haim Katz.

Israel’s Energy Minister Israel Katz concluded on Tuesday a two-day visit to Cairo, where he participated in the EGYPS 2023 Petroleum Show. It was Katz’s first visit abroad since taking office. The high-level visit reflects Israel's desire to deepen its ties with Egypt, especially on natural gas, renewable energies, hydrogen and stockage of electricity.

Israel and Egypt were at the origins of the East Mediterranean Gas Forum (EMGF), first established in 2019. Other members include Cyprus, Greece, the Palestinian Authority, Jordan, France and Italy. The European Union and the United States participate as observers to the group.

Over the years, this forum has become one of the milestones of Israel-Egypt relations, alongside bilateral security cooperation. Israeli gas is exported to Egypt where it is liquified either for local use or export. After the Russian invasion of Ukraine and the ensuing global energy crisis, Israel, Egypt and the European Union agreed to increase efforts for cooperation in this field. Companies operating the marine natural gas fields off of Israel's shore have asked lately to increase export quotas. The issue is under consideration by Israeli authorities.

During his Cairo visit, Katz met with a series of senior Egyptian and European officials, including Egyptian Minister of Petroleum and Mineral Resources Tarek al-Mulla, Minister of Electricity and Renewable Energy Mohamed Shaker, EU Energy Commissioner Kadri Simson and Secretary General of the EMGF Osama Mubarez.

Speaking at the EMGF, Katz noted that the relationship between Israel and Egypt serves as an excellent example of successful cooperation between neighboring countries in the region. "I pledge to advance and realize this cooperation, with the hope of promoting regional stability through common interests," noted the Israeli minister.

Mulla expressed similar sentiments. A statement issued by his office said the two parties discussed increasing the energy supplies of the eastern Mediterranean region through Egyptian gas facilities and then exporting it to meet constant energy needs in light of the current geopolitical crisis. Referring to the main operator of Israeli marine gas fields, the statement further said that "the two ministers reviewed Chevron’s global cooperation file with both sides and their continuous coordination with it in order to increase the volume of its business."

Israel’s Ambassador to Egypt Amira Oron told Al-Monitor that the bilateral relations are in good condition. "On the economic side, we see a significant increase in activity, especially in the energy sector — namely the export of Israeli gas for liquefaction in Egypt for the benefit of the European markets. The Israeli-Egyptian cooperation is no longer only bilateral, but with an extensive international scope." Oron noted also an increase in the number of Israeli tourists arriving in the Sinai Peninsula and Cairo and said she expects this trend to continue.

Still, Israeli-Palestinian relations remain a sensitive point for Cairo. In their statements, neither Katz nor Mulla addressed Israel’s decision on Sunday to regularize nine illegal West Bank outposts and advance the construction of some 10,000 new West Bank settlement housing units. Much like the United States and the European Union, Cairo had condemned on Monday that decision. Its Foreign Ministry said it considered the Israeli decision especially provocative on the backdrop of the Jerusalem Support Conference of the Arab League hosted by Egypt the very same day.

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