Trilateral Partnerships drive East Mediterranean security and prosperity

Trilateral partnerships, the miniature of multilateralism, can significantly contribute to peace, security, and economic development between regional countries. Shared interests, common values, and effective leaderships guarantee coordination to address regional contingencies. The emergence of multilateral energy cooperation fora and trilateral security arrangements in the East Mediterranean reflect collective commitment to regional stability and prosperity.

The Eastern Mediterranean Gas Forum (EMGF) falls in the category of a multilateral institution that serves as a regional platform of dialogue between governments and an avenue of communication between states and the energy industry. The EMGF’s prime objectives include but are not limited to creation of a sustainable regional gas market, protection and development of critical energy infrastructure, commitment to resolve maritime disputes based on International Law, and support of the clean energy transition including renewable gas production to fight climate change.

Established in Cairo in 2019, the Forum’s founding members include Greece, Egypt, Israel, Jordan, Palestine, Italy, and Cyprus with the United States and the European Union serving as official permanent observers and France as a newly accepted permanent member.

Climate Change Mitigation

Members and observers support the development of two initiatives according to the communique of the EMGF’s 4th ministerial meeting that was released in March 2021. The first initiative centres on “Gas Decarbonization” and the second on “LNG as a fuel for vessels” always in line with environmental global trends.

Current emission trajectories indicate that the broader East Mediterranean region will warm twice as quickly as the rest of the world and thus regional cooperation on adaptation, and zero-carbon infrastructure financing is critical to mitigate the consequences of climate change. In Israel, for example, gas has replaced coal and now feeds about 85 percent of Israeli domestic energy demand. It is estimated that by 2025, all new power plants in Israel will run on renewables and after this transition, gas will still be used to produce methane, ethanol, and hydrogen, “the fuels of the future.”

It is also noteworthy that Egypt and Italy, two founding members of the EMGF, through Italian ENI and Egyptian state-owned National Gas Holding and Electricity Holding companies signed in July 2021 an agreement to examine the feasibility for the Italian energy company to produce in Egypt green hydrogen with the use of electricity from renewables and blue hydrogen with carbon dioxide’s storage. Interestingly, the EMGF addresses climate change challenges and provides the necessary tools for a climate security framework to adopt preventive responses to climate risks.

Human Security and Military Cooperation

Trilateralism as an anchor of an East Mediterranean architecture has expanded its scope from energy to security and economic development issues. The trilateral partnerships of Greece-Cyprus-Israel, Greece-Cyprus-Egypt, Greece-Cyprus-Jordan, Jordan-Egypt-Iraq, and the quadripartite of Greece-Israel-Cyprus-UAE are driven by a shared vision to develop deeper cooperation in the fields of energy, counterterrorism and security including human security.

Human security in particular entails the strengthening of capacities to build resilience and enhance human dignity. The global health crisis attributed to the coronavirus pandemic surfaced the need of collective action to safeguard human security. It is in this context that trilateral partnerships in the East Mediterranean have become highly active and Greece donated to Jordan 150 thousand covid-19 vaccines, while the UAE launched an initiative to donate vaccines to countries in need.

The enhancement of human security, except for the promotion of military and security objectives, can be achieved with the creation of a West Asia North Africa Treaty Organization (WANATO), an institution building concept initially proposed by HRH Prince El Hassan bin Talal of Jordan. Just as NATO produced decades of peace and stability in Europe, a regional treaty organization in the broader Middle East can work towards the same direction that lies in human security enabling people to live in peaceful regions.

Furthermore, trilateral military exercises are conducted regularly serving as a backbone for the maintenance of East Mediterranean peace and stability. Most representative is the annual military training exercise code-named «Medusa» involving the Egyptian, Greek, and Cypriot naval, air and special forces which in 2020 expanded to include military forces from the UAE and France. «Medusa» training exercise aims at the exchange of field and combat expertise between officers and protection of maritime infrastructure against potential threats.  Another important exercise is the annual naval drill code-named «Noble Dina» that is conducted between Greece, Cyprus and Israel involving naval vessels and helicopters that practice search and rescue exercises and anti-submarine warfare in a collective effort that has attracted France to enhance stability over the Mediterranean Sea.

Practically, trilateral military cooperation mechanisms have transformed into a 3+1 format with the participation of partner countries like the United States and France that maintain vigorous interest in the security developments of the broad region.

American Support

The values-based trilateral partnerships in the East Mediterranean are supported by Washington that prioritizes the improvement of multilateral efficiency on shared regional and global interests like establishment of stability and peace, ending the pandemic and reverting the negative consequences of climate change.

The Eastern Mediterranean Security and Energy Partnership Act of 2019, also known as the East Med Act, that was signed into Law, constitutes an important segment of the unfolding American strategy in the East Mediterranean that is based on three pillars. First, active US participation in the trilateral dialogue among Greece, Cyprus and Israel on energy, and maritime security and protection of regional energy exploration infrastructure, including infrastructure owned or operated by American companies. Second, maintenance of a robust American naval presence in the region like for example in the naval facility at Souda Bay in the Greek island of Crete. Third, support of efforts to counter Russian influence in the region through increased security cooperation to include maritime domain awareness and the conduct of joint military exercises.

It is in the context of establishing strong defence relationships that the United States conducted a trilateral maritime exercise with the participation of Greece and Cyprus in the naval facility at Souda Bay in early 2021. The aim of the joint naval exercise was to counter common threats and enhance interoperability among allied forces. Overall, Washington seems to realize that the security of partners and allies in the East Mediterranean is critical to the security of the United States and Europe. To this end, Washington maintains a vigorous naval presence in Greece, and a significant military presence in Jordan that evolved with Operation Inherent Resolve against ISIS.

Growing challenges in the East Mediterranean necessitate collective responses. Trilateral partnerships, the micrographic aspect of multilateralism, provide the necessary context to advance traditional and non-traditional security interests and counter common challenges and threats. Because as Hans Blix, former head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, once said “international cooperation, multilateralism is indispensable”.

Antonia Dimou
Antonia Dimou
Antonia Dimou is Head of the Middle East Unit at the Institute for Security and Defense Analyses, Greece; and, an Associate at the Center for Middle East Development, University of California, Los Angeles