EU interconnector: Cyprus ‘energy isolation’ or Israeli gas ?

Pipeline projection (Wikimedia)

Ingrid Jaradat

EU Observer  /  November 11, 2021

The European Union has recently approved funding of €100m to Cyprus for the construction of the EuroAsia Interconnector to link Europe’s electricity network with that of Israel and its illegal settlements in the West Bank.

If the project goes ahead, it will entrench the EU’s already deep complicity in Israel’s colonial settlement enterprise in the Occupied Palestinian Territory (OPT).

The interconnector was conceived in 2012 by the governments of Cyprus, Greece and Israel under an evolving military and economic alliance between the three countries of the Eastern Mediterranean region.

The 1,208 km submarine cable is marketed with the objective of ending the ‘energy isolation’ of Cyprus and promoted alongside a much larger project, the EastMed gas pipeline, estimated at €6bn.

Both projects aim to capitalize on the extensive gas findings in the eastern Mediterranean that have been inflaming tensions between countries in the region.

Without hesitation, the European Commission gave both projects, the EuroAsia Interconnector and the EastMed gas pipeline, Projects of Common Interest (PCI) status, meaning that they have strategic value for the Union’s energy security and therefore can benefit from accelerated permitting and funding.

While the construction of the EastMed pipeline is still in doubt, given broader regional dynamics, the EuroAsia Interconnector has courted less controversy except in 2019 when UNICEF distanced itself from the project due to its association with Israel’s illegal settlements.

While ostensibly an electricity cable that is consistent with the objectives of the European Green Deal, the EuroAsia Interconnector is in fact a hidden fossil fuel project. Its purpose is to enable Cyprus and Israel to export to the EU electricity produced from their disputed and highly-polluting gas explorations.

At a time when the gas lobby is trying to sell natural gas as “transition fuel”, despite evidence that leaks from gas exploitation make it more polluting than coal, the EuroAsia Interconnector represents the realization of this anti-climate agenda.

To this end, Cyprus was granted an exception under the EU’s TEN-E regulation, to the disappointment of campaigners, so it could continue receiving millions in EU subsidies for its fossil fuel projects.

‘Trojan Horse’

Natural gas and associated projects like the EuroAsia Interconnector are Trojan Horses to undermine Europe’s climate commitments under the Paris Agreement. Furthermore, the project is contributing to fuel conflict in an already turbulent region, emboldening in particular Israel’s encroachment on land and natural resources in violation of international law.

Much of Israel’s gas extractions, for which the EU is to become the main export market, comes from plunder, particularly of vast gas deposits off the coast of the Israeli-occupied and besieged Gaza Strip.

The Palestinian Authority recently deposited its Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) claims with the UN, overlapping with major gas fields Israel is currently exploiting.

Furthermore, Israel has started gas drillings in disputed waters with Lebanon prompting protests and condemnations. To top it all off, Israel has deployed German-supplied nuclear-powered submarines and corvettes to de facto annexed disputed gas fields.

The EU is not only turning a blind eye to Israel’s belligerent and illegal gas extractions but out-rightly colluding by financing and otherwise supporting costly infrastructure projects to reap the fruits of this plunder. The ongoing gas crisis affecting the EU is no excuse for this behaviour.

The EU, as well as the UN Security Council, consider Israel’s settlements in the occupied West Bank to be illegal and a flagrant violation of international law.

In 2013, the EU adopted guidelines for non-recognition of Israeli sovereignty in the OPT that prohibit EU funding of Israel’s illegal settlements. However, this position and the guidelines have only half-heartedly been implemented and with poor monitoring or enforcement.

The EuroAsia Interconnector is a prime example of the EU’s failure to abide by its own legal obligations and commitments.

legal study by the Palestinian Human Rights Organizations Council (PHROC) has found that EU and member states’ support of the interconnector project violates their international and EU law obligations in connection with Israel’s illegal settlements, specifically that of non-recognition and non-assistance. EU institutions also violate the prohibition on EU financing of Israeli entities and activities in the OPT under the 2013 guidelines.

The PHROC study shows that Israel’s electricity network includes the illegal settlements – by design and in conformity with Israel’s claim of sovereignty in the OPT and the extension of Israeli jurisdiction to the illegal settlements, which is an act of de facto annexation.

Purely commercial?

Confronted with the study, the EU Commission has responded that EU financing of the EuroAsia Interconnector is limited to the Cyprus-Greece leg, claiming the Israel-Cyprus leg is a commercial endeavour. If so, why is the EU presenting the project on its websites and the PCI lists with the Israel-Cyprus leg included?

Moreover, even if the commission treats the Israel-Cyprus leg as a commercial project not entitled to EU funding, will the EU and member states adopt the necessary measures to ensure that businesses and investors respect international humanitarian law and human rights and abstain from implementing this project that will boost Israel’s illegal settlement enterprise?

The EU is right to end the energy isolation of Cyprus by connecting it to Europe’s electricity grid, but it is wrong to support an energy project that undermines the EU’s climate commitments, fosters conflicts in the region, and contributes to the maintenance and expansion of Israel’s illegal settlements and the systematic violation of the human rights of the Palestinian people, including the right to self-determination.

The EU, alongside member states Cyprus and Greece, must at least cancel the Israel-Cyprus leg of the EuroAsia Interconnector.

Igrid Jaradat is the co-author of a legal study on the Euro-Asia interconnector for the Palestinian Human Rights Organisations Council (PHROC)