(Washington, DC) – U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), Chairman of the Subcommittee on the Middle East and North Africa, made the following statement at a hearing entitled, “Eastern Mediterranean Energy: Challenges and Opportunities for U.S. Regional Priorities.” The hearing was held jointly by the House Foreign Affairs Committee’s Subcommittee on the Middle East and North Africa, chaired by Rep. Ros-Lehtinen, and the House Committee on Science, Space, & Technology’s Subcommittee on Energy, chaired by Rep. Randy Weber (R-TX). Statement by Ros-Lehtinen:
“Three months ago, I led a bipartisan Congressional delegation trip to Cyprus and Israel.
I was joined by Carolyn Maloney, Gus Bilirakis and my friend and colleague from our Middle East and North Africa subcommittee, Randy Weber, who is participating today as the Chair of Science, Space and Technology’s Subcommittee on Energy.
Energy was a focal point of our trip and one of the major talking points we heard in both Israel and Cyprus was that the natural gas developments in the Eastern Mediterranean have the potential to be more than just an economic boost for both countries: natural gas development has the potential to drastically change the geopolitical landscape of the region.
While in Israel, Prime Minister Netanyahu and other Israeli government officials told us that the democratic Jewish State was on the verge of reestablishing relations with Turkey.
And just a few short weeks after our trip, Israel and Turkey announced relations had been restored; no doubt the potential to collaborate on natural gas developments played a central role in those discussions.
Since the discovery of natural gas in the Eastern Mediterranean, Israel’s relationships with Greece and Cyprus have improved.
While in Cyprus, we were told that the Cypriots are working to bring the countries of the Eastern Mediterranean together to create a multilateral forum that would include Israel.
We were told by Cypriot officials that they consider themselves part of Israel’s strategic depth and plan on working closely with Israel on issues of counterterrorism, security, crime and trafficking.
It was clear that energy has emerged as a key incentive that could help resolve the Cyprus problem and end Turkey’s occupation of the northern part of Cyprus.
A potential pipeline carrying Cypriot and Israeli natural gas to and through Turkey could not only improve relations in the region, it could then be routed into Europe.
That would help our European friends reduce their dependence on Russian energy and decrease Russian influence in Europe.
We have yet to see the tangible contributions from Ankara regarding Cyprus reunification - an issue that is of utmost importance to this committee.
With cheap Israeli natural gas, we can see Israel strengthening its relations with Jordan and Egypt and reshaping the traditional alliances in the region, as both nations could benefit from alternative energy sources.
So the United States has a vested interest in seeing these projects in the Eastern Mediterranean come to fruition in order to bolster our partners in the region but to also bolster our own national security interests.
Of course, the potential economic benefits realized by the Eastern Mediterranean nations should all these natural gas projects be developed would be immense.
And it won’t just be an economic benefit to the Eastern Mediterranean nations;
It was the U.S.-based company, Noble Energy, that made these potentially game changing natural gas discoveries offshore both Israel and Cyprus.
Exxon has also participated in Cyprus’ latest round of licensing.
As the projects expand and come online, that will create more jobs and bring in more revenue.
But there are of course still several impediments in the way.
It would clearly be in Jordan and Egypt’s benefit to work with Israel so they can decrease their energy subsidies that heavily burden their economies in lieu of a cheaper alternative, but will they allow other political considerations to derail stronger cooperation with Israel?
Are energy incentives sufficient to end Turkey’s occupation of Cyprus, or will this opportunity pass and limit the extent of energy cooperation in the region?
Is Israel ready to be a regional leader and can it resolve its domestic issues favorably to allow these projects to go forward?
The United States can play a pivotal role in resolving some of these issues.
We want to hear what positive steps the administration is taking to encourage these projects to go forward, and how, if at all, we are providing support to Israel, Cyprus, Turkey, Egypt, and even Noble Energy, to get these ambitious projects online and benefitting the region.
We want to know how these issues factor in the administration’s foreign policy when it comes to these nations and the regions.
Because the Eastern Mediterranean natural gas discoveries can drastically reshape the region and benefit so many of our allies.”