Authoritarian politics, energy and computer technology and war are rapidly transforming the Eastern Mediterranean.
Political instability — triggered by the Arab Spring — has made the region extraordinarily violent. Syria is disintegrating; millions of refugees from the conflict have spread across the region. Civil war has decimated Libya and Yemen. Turkey, a NATO member, is fighting the PKK and Islamic State as its increasingly authoritarian president transforms the country’s domestic politics. Further complicating the situation, Russia and Iran are capitalizing on American disengagement from the region to expand their military presence on the land, air and sea.
Nevertheless, the region has a few bright spots. Among the brightest are the large offshore energy reserves in the Eastern Mediterranean. Such reserves are already benefiting Israel and creating potential for cooperation between Israel and its neighbors.
Israel’s energy laws and policies were developed largely when the country was an energy importer. Israeli officials now have to develop a way to handle energy matters that can allow Israel to become not only a substantial energy producer, but an exporter. They must balance antitrust, security, environmental and other concerns while safeguarding Israel’s reputation as a fair and reliable home for foreign investment. They hope to take advantage of the resulting diplomatic openings and domestic job and business opportunities, use energy tax revenues for the public interest.
To address the range of energy and security questions relating to the Eastern Mediterranean, the University of Haifa and Hudson Institute sponsored a “blue-ribbon” commission of senior Israeli and American military officers, policy practitioners and scholars. The commissioners met in Israel and in Washington, D.C. in 2016 and drafted a comprehensive report that addresses Israel’s energy policy, security problems and opportunities in the region and the future of the US-Israel strategic partnership.
The case can be made that Israel and the United States continue to share strategic interests, but those with contrary views are increasingly vocal. It is sensible for Israelis and Americans to reexamine their assumptions about world affairs and how their ties might better serve their interests. This report delineates new avenues for bilateral cooperation while making the case that the United States has no realistic option to disengage or isolate itself from the Middle East.