Israel's prime minister: Med pipeline would be 'revolution'

By COSTAS KANTOURIS Markets Associated Press

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu promised Thursday to promote plans for an ambitious Mediterranean undersea natural gas pipeline project, in a bid by his country to become a key European energy supplier.

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Israel is hoping to export much of its newly discovered natural gas to Europe by a proposed 2,200-kilometer (1,350-mile) undersea pipeline to Cyprus and Greece.

"It's something we're very excited about," Netanyahu said in Thessaloniki, Greece's second-largest city.

"Of course the idea of the East Med pipeline would be a revolution. We've had preliminary studies of it. It seems promising and we're going to look further."

Netanyahu met with Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras and Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades, after the three countries signed a joint declaration in Tel Aviv in April to promote construction of the pipeline.

Greece and Israel are also planning an undersea electricity cable link and are also considering a Mediterranean data cable.

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Once frosty, Israel's ties with Greece and Cyprus have markedly improved in recent years, coinciding with a spat between Israel and regional rival Turkey.

"There's a simple fact with Cyprus, Greece and Israel that brings us very close together. We are all democracies — real democracies," Netanyahu said.

"And when you look at our region ... that's not a common commodity."

The three countries now hold frequent joint military and civil protection exercises, including the recent "Kinyras-Saul" exercises that involved special forces from Cyprus and Israel.

More than 3,500 police officers were deployed around the city, which historically had a large Jewish community that was almost wiped out during the Nazi occupation in World War II.

While in Thessaloniki, Netanyahu was also visiting several Jewish sites, including the grounds of a planned Holocaust museum.

Later Thursday, two pro-Palestinian rallies are planned. A group of demonstrators held a separate protest inside the offices of state-run ET3 television, and a videotaped message was broadcast by the station.

"We would swap our prime minister for a Palestinian activist," protest organizer Petros Gotsis said. "(Tsipras) is no longer on our side."

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Derek Gatopoulos in Athens, Greece, and Menelaos Hadjicostis in Nicosia, Cyprus, contributed to this report.

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Follow Costas Kantouris at http://twitter.com/CostasKantouris