Egypt is open to importing gas from Israel, its oil minister said in state-owned media on Wednesday, another sign that Cairo may lean on its Jewish neighbor to help tackle its energy troubles.
Egypt is going through its worst energy crisis in decades and is seeking fresh sources of natural gas, which powers most of its homes and factories, including Algeria, Russia, and Cyprus.
But importing gas from Israel is more controversial. Popular mistrust of the Jewish state runs high following three wars with Egypt and its continuing presence on lands Palestinian hope to claim for a state.
Oil Minister Sharif Ismail said gas imports from Israel were a possibility, when asked in an interview by the state-owned Al Mussawar magazine. "Anything can happen. Whatever achieves the best interests of Egypt, and of the Egyptian economy and the role of Egypt in the region... that will determine the decision to import gas from Israel," he said.
Companies are already negotiating to bring Israeli gas to Egypt, but any deals will hinge on approval from Cairo. Egypt became the first Arab country to sign a peace treaty with Israel in 1979, following three decades of intermittent conflict since Israel's creation in 1948.
While many Egyptians still view Israel with suspicion, relations have improved since the army toppled President Mohamed Morsi, an Islamist, in 2013 after mass protests against his rule.
The two countries also have a shared interest in containing the Palestinian terror group Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip, and maintaining stability in the Sinai Peninsula where security has deteriorated since Morsi's ouster.
Egypt, which once exported gas to Israel and elsewhere, has become a net energy importer over the last few years. The government has attempted to improve the energy landscape by slashing subsidies, paying down its debt to foreign energy firms, and negotiating import agreements.
The operators of Israel's offshore Tamar gas field said they had plans to build a pipeline to Egypt's liquefied natural gas (LNG) plant in the north-eastern port of Damietta, run by a joint venture of Spain's Gas Natural and Italy's Eni.
Israel's Delek Drilling, one of the operating partners, said in November that if an agreement is signed, gas supplies to Egypt could start flowing in 2017.