Just before Israel’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Lapid set out to his first European visit, and in the context of the ongoing negotiations between Israel and Lebanon over the sea borders between the two countries: thirteen senior European ambassadors went on a special briefing tour of Israel’s northern sea border with Lebanon to discuss opportunities and threats, as well as gas reservoirs in the eastern Mediterranean. The energy sector, vital to the Israeli economy, yet vulnerable to foreign threats, was the main focus of the one-day program.
The strategic tour, led by ELNET in cooperation with Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Israel Defense Forces, offered the European representatives the opportunity to experience firsthand the complexity of Israel’s Eastern maritime border. The group was briefed on prospects for closer European-Israeli cooperation in the areas of natural gas and energy, including the underwater EastMed gas pipeline project intended to facilitate Israeli natural gas exports to Europe.
The day began with security and strategic briefings at the Haifa Navy base. Commander of the Haifa base Brig. Gen. Guy Goldfarb explained how over the past decade, following the discovery of the Israel natural gas fields, maritime security has grown to become one of the top strategic objectives of the IDF. Israel’s maritime security is also critical for trade and supply: 99% of imported goods come to the country via ports; more than half via the Northern port of Haifa.
Lt. Col. Amnon Shefler, who just the day before has been appointed the new IDF International Spokesperson, stressed the critical importance of close cooperation at the sea with European partners in the Mediterranean. Special Envoy for Energy at Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs Jonathan Miller discussed the economic challenges and opportunities for Europe-Israel cooperation in the field of energy, including alternative energy sources.
The ambassadors were taken aboard two Israeli Navy “Dvora” patrol vessels and toured Israel’s northern coastline and the Leviathan natural gas platform. The offshore rig, located 40 miles south of the maritime border with Lebanon, is a potential target in a future conflict with Hezbollah. The strategic tour enabled ambassadors to better understand the challenges of defending Israel’s key energy assets at sea.
“We tend to forget to what extent the economy, the natural resources, and the renewables, are important for the security of a country like Israel and the security of the Middle East.”Marek Magierowski, Ambassador of Poland to Israel
Following briefings aboard navy vessels and discussions with representatives from the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Ministry of Energy and Infrastructure, the ambassadors flew with two civilian helicopters for a two-hour visit of the Leviathan gas platform. The rare tour of the platform, which usually remains off the limits to visitors, provided the ambassadors with a unique opportunity to see with their own eyes the vast infrastructure necessary for safe extraction of the gas – which underwater covers an area the size of Tel Aviv.
” Very important, interesting and eye-opening for us. As ambassadors, we follow these questions on a daily basis, the issue of energy cooperation between Israel and Europe. Bilaterally, we also have the interest to work with Israel on the energy sector.”Kirisika Lehto Asikainen, Ambassador of Finland to Israel
“It was a unique opportunity to get to understand in a very concrete and tangible manner what are the security and energy challenges of Israel, but also the larger region. To see with your own eyes a not just on paper or screens, and to meet people. We managed to meet people of the security side, but also on the economic side, and these kinds of meetings are invaluable.”Jean-Daniel Ruch, Ambassador of Switzerland to Israel
The program was the third in a series of tailored strategic tours for European ambassadors on assignment in Israel, following a visit to the Gaza border last September, and a helicopter tour to Israel’s North in March. While foreign delegations from Europe were precluded from visiting Israel due to COVID-19, ELNET designed this program to offer European diplomats an in-depth strategic overview of the threats Israel faces. Ambassadors and senior officials from 23 European countries have participated in the program to date.
“The strategic tour reflects the growing relations between Europe and Israel, and their interconnectivity in the field of energy. Israel will soon be connected to the European electricity grid, opening further avenues for cooperation,” noted Shai Bazak, ELNET-Israel CEO following the tour.
The program received wide media coverage in Hebrew and English-language media. Selected publications:
- Israel: EU Diplomats Get First-Hand Look at Maritime Security, I24 News
- EU representatives visit maritime border with Lebanon, Leviathan field, The Jerusalem Post
- שגרירים ממדינות אירופה ערכו סיור באסדת הגז לוויתן (Ambassadors from European countries toured the Leviathan gas rig), Maariv (Hebrew)
- על רקע המו”מ המתמשך עם לבנון על שרטוט הגבול הימי, N12 (Herew)
- Ambassadeurs européens – Energy Tour, I24 (French)