Egypt’s $15 billion deal to import Israeli gas was a victory that will help to transform the North African country into a regional energy hub, President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi said on Wednesday, shrugging off public concerns about warming ties with a former enemy.
“We have scored a goal!” El-Sisi said to applause during the televised opening of an investment assistance center. “I’ve been dreaming about it for four years, that we become a regional hub for energy.”
Israel’s Delek Drilling and Noble Energy announced earlier this week that they planned to supply 64 billion cubic meters of natural gas over 10 years to Egypt’s Dolphinus Holdings. The news raised questions in the media about why Egypt was importing gas from Israel so soon after inaugurating the giant offshore Zohr field that is expected to cover all domestic demand.
Egypt and Israel signed a peace deal that changed the face of the Middle East nearly four decades ago, but ties have largely focused on security. While the governments have drawn closer in recent years, the Egyptian public remains highly distrustful of warmer ties with the Jewish state.
El-Sisi, who has tolerated little dissent since seizing office in mid-2013, said the public was right to raise questions but Egypt could not squander an opportunity to benefit from gas discoveries across the East Mediterranean, particularly as the country has idle gas export facilities on its northern coast.
“All the gas coming from around the region will come to us,” he said. “It’s either re-exported to other countries or we use it locally.”
Gas discoveries off Cyprus, Israel and Egypt and prospects for reservoirs off Lebanon could create a center of gas production on Europe’s doorstep. While that’s given a small number of nations access to vast resources, they’ve only just started to agree on the best way to export the fuel in a region rife with political enmity.