Italy and Israel have agreed to strengthen cooperation in water, energy supplies and cyber security, Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni and her Israeli counterpart Benjamin Netanyahu said after a summit in Rome on Friday.
Netanyahu’s visit, his first to Italy’s capital since Meloni’ took office, coincides with Rome’s search for alternatives to Russian gas. Like other European countries, Italy has been working hard to reduce its dependence on supplies from Moscow since the start of the Ukraine war.
Israel wants to increase its gas exports to Italy and Europe, raising the possibility of creating a liquefied natural gas terminal in Cyprus.
“We have gas reserves that we are now exporting and we’d like to expedite more gas exports to Europe through Italy” Netanyahu said.
Israel began producing and exporting gas after discovering several reservoirs off its coast in the early 2010s.
But it lacks a gas pipeline to connect its drilling platforms in the Mediterranean to southern Europe.
“We are already cooperating in gas with your national company (energy giant ENI) but we want to expand” Netanyahu told Italian Enterprise Minister Adolfo Urso at a business forum.
“I think this (gas) is a strategic need of Italy and Europe, and Israel is prepared to do more with you for that end,” said Netanyahu.
Urso welcomed his comments, saying: “Italy aims to become the European gas hub and Israel must be the point of strength for gas production.”
Other options to bring Israeli gas to Europe include the EastMed project, the construction of an underwater pipeline nearly 1,900 kilometres long, to connect Israel’s offshore gas fields with southern Europe through Cyprus and Greece.
The gas would then be transported via the Poseidon pipeline to Otranto in southern Italy.
But the €6 billion project is only expected to be up and running sometime between 2025 and 2027.
Meanwhile, in the centre of Rome, demonstrators gathered to protest Netanyahu’s law that, according to the protesters, could weaken the Israeli Supreme Court.
The reform, hotly contested by opposition parties, means the Israeli parliament can overrule a decision of the court by an absolute majority vote (61 out of 120 members), effectively establishing political control over the judiciary.
“We are here to sympathise with the Israeli people and because Israel cannot lose a democratic stronghold such as its Supreme Court. We demonstrate for Israeli democracy,” said demonstrator Daniela Gea.
The uproar over Netanyahu’s legal overhaul has plunged Israel into one of its worst ever domestic crises.
Beyond the protests, which have drawn tens of thousands of Israelis to the streets and recently became violent, the opposition has surged from across society, with business leaders and legal officials speaking out against what they say will be the ruinous effects of the plan.