But Palestinians are warning that without a broader resolution of regional disputes, the pipeline risks becoming a source of conflict.
The Cyprus-centred project could be the world’s longest pipeline if built, stretching up to 1,530km, and passing through depths of up to 3,000m.
The Israeli energy minister, Silvan Shalom, raised the issue at a ministerial conference in Rome last week and held talks on the margins with the EU’s vice president for energy union, Maros Sefkovic, Israeli sources say.
Israel, Greece and Cyprus expect a formal meeting with Sefkovic to discuss ways of actualising the project, on the fringes of an EU energy ministers’ summit on 9 December.
“The three countries involved intend to raise this issue [on the 9th] as it involves funding from the commission,” an EU diplomat said. Israel, as a non-EU member, will depend on its partner countries’ powers of persuasion.
With energy diversification and security both rising up Europe’s political agenda, “it looks like the stars have aligned in one position now and that might be good for our timing,” Guy Feldman, an advisor to Shalom told the Guardian.
But the Palestinian Authority cautioned the EU against signing any contract until territorial gas disputes with neighbouring countries such as Lebanon were resolved.
“The objective of energy security starts with a clear cut boundary of all the gas fields,” said the PA’s energy minister, Omar Kettaneh. “Otherwise instead of being a source of security the pipeline will be a source of conflict.”
In 2010, the US Geological Survey (USGS) estimated that the Levant Basin, could hold more than 3,455bcm of gas, which is comparable to Iraq’s reserves.
But until now, political instability has hindered its exploitation, with Israeli and Cypriot claims to overlapping gas fields contested by Lebanon and Turkey, respectively.
In 2012, Israel, Cyprus and Greece signed a deal to promote exports of their gas to the EU through an eastern Mediterranean corridor.
The planned offshore pipeline, which diplomats say could transport between 8-15bcm of natural gas annually, has already been selected for “project of common interest” status by the EU. This potentially gives it access to a €5.85bn fund, and preferential treatment from multilateral banks.
“It is technically challenging and because of that it might be financially challenging,” Feldman said. “But Minister Shalom said in Rome that if the EU will lend a shoulder on the financing, it might be a feasible option,” Feldman said.
As well as Leviathan, the already operating Tamar field has proven reserves of 283bcm. Israel also has several smaller gas fields and is searching for more exploitable reserves. The country wants to export up to 60% of the gas it produces, Feldman said.
A commission spokesperson said that east Mediterranean gas finds such as Leviathan “could play a very important role in helping both producing and neighbouring countries to address their energy security problems. They could also have a growing role in the EU’s diversification strategy, contributing not only to the security of the region but to the entire EU.”
But Kettaneh said that such words rang hollow in Gaza, which has been prevented from exploiting its own natural gas resources as a result of Israel’s blockade, and internal political divisions.
“It is ironic to talk about energy security for the EU when Gaza only enjoys five hours of daily electricity, and people are dying in hospitals because of a lack of electricity,” he said. “We should actually be talking about energy security for all.”