Playing to the audience as elections loom? Turkey threatens to backtrack on three Israeli pipelines over Gaza attacks
Energy Minister Taner Yıldız said that due to Israel's bombardment of Gaza, a prospective natural gas pipeline between the two countries is currently not possible, at a press conference in Ankara on Monday.
“If a pipeline is built from Israel, it will flow not with gas but with the blood of innocent children and mothers,” said Yıldız, who was joined by Malta Energy Minister Konrad Mizzi at the press briefing. Market observers said the proactively worded statement was a political ploy made just days before Turkey prepares to elect its president directly for the first time in the history of the republic.
Yıldız added that if the situation was to be stabilized, the possibility of such a deal could return to the table.
Reports began to circulate last year that Turkish firm Turcas was engaging in talks with Israeli firms over the construction of a pipeline between the two countries. Turkey is almost entirely dependent on energy imports, as it currently imports nearly 80 percent of its natural gas from Russia and Iran. Israel's discovery of the Leviathan gas field just off the country's Mediterranean coast was the largest natural gas discovery in the past 10 years, giving Israel a boost to diversify its export market.
However, the discovery took place in the same year as the Mavi Marmara debacle, in which eight Turkish citizens and one Turkish-American were killed by the Israeli navy while en route to deliver humanitarian aid to Gaza. The incident resulted in a rapid deterioration of Israeli-Turkish relations.
News reports in May indicated that at least 10 Turkish energy firms had bid in a tender for Leviathan exports, including the Zorlu Group and Turcas, which launched a joint bid with a German firm.
Some found Yıldız's statement likely to reflect the current Turkish energy policy. An Energy Ministry official told Today's Zaman that the government is determined to shelve Israeli gas pipeline plans for some time. “I do not think the private companies and third parties will insist on engaging in talks with Israel for a possible pipeline under these circumstances,” the official said.
Anonymous sources familiar with the issue said the government might ask companies to keep out of this business or keep a low profile until the next political move.
Playing to the audience
“They are playing to the audience just before the elections and trying to attract nationalist votes,” said energy expert Necdet Pamir, speaking to Today's Zaman, adding that the statement was made particularly to attract voters from the opposition Nationalist Movement Party (MHP).
Many MHP voters were not happy with the choice of Ekmeleddin Ihsanoğlu as the Republican People's Party (CHP) and MHP joint presidential candidate, and it has been speculated that a segment of that base is likely to vote for Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.
The ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party) and Erdoğan in particular have been criticized repeatedly for what many analysts say is an attempt to use Gaza as a domestic political issue. Erdoğan has frequently directed harsh criticism towards Israel throughout its operation in Gaza, which has resulted in the deaths of at least 1,824 Palestinians.
In light of the aggression in Gaza, there have been numerous calls for Turkey to re-evaluate its trade policy with Israel. The two countries have enjoyed increased trade relations in recent years, and Economy Minister Nihat Zeybekçi announced last month that the trade volume between the countries had reached $5 billion.