Environmental protection ministry says allowing dozens of oil tankers to enter the Red Sea resort of Eilat will cause pollution, Middle East Eye reports.
Israel’s Ministry of Environmental Protection said on December 16 that it would not allow oil tankers to enter the Red Sea resort of Eilat, as was planned under a deal with partners from the United Arab Emirates (UAE) to transport crude from the Gulf to Europe via Israel.
“We blocked the entry of dozens of oil tankers into the Gulf of Eilat,” Minister of Environmental Protection Tamar Zandberg said in a statement, adding that Israel “will not become a bridge of pollution in an era of climate crisis”.
The announcement could lead to the cancellation of the deal, one of the biggest to emerge from the normalisation of ties between Israel and the UAE last year.
Environmentalists had petitioned Israel’s Supreme Court to block the agreement.
Signed between an Israeli state-owned company and a venture with Emirati and Israeli owners, the deal allows for oil unloaded from tankers in the Red Sea port of Eilat to be moved across Israel in an existing pipeline to the Mediterranean coast.
Responding on Thursday to the Supreme Court petition, Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett’s government said it would not intervene and would instead allow the environmental protection ministry to play its regulatory role limiting activities that pose ecological risks.
Israel’s energy minister had previously come out against the deal, citing ecological risks to Eilat’s fragile coral reefs, Reuters reported.
The Israeli state-owned company involved in the deal, Eilat Ashkelon Pipeline Company (EAPC), said the deal has “significant geopolitical and economic advantages for Israel and its citizens”.
EAPC said it was committed to protecting the environment and would continue its dialogue with the environmental protection ministry over its pipeline activities.
The other company involved in the deal, Med-Red Land Bridge, did not immediately provide comment to Reuters.
UAE-Israel deal: Secretive 1960s Israel-Iran built pipeline could open new oil route, says report
The pipeline, running from the Red Sea to the Mediterranean, could allow the bypassing of the Suez Canal for oil supertankers.
The new recognition agreement between the United Arab Emirates and Israel could benefit a secretive oil pipeline built by Israel and Iran in the 1960s, according to a report by Foreign Policy magazine.
The Europe Asia Pipeline Company (EAPC) – owners of the 158-mile conduit from the Mediterranean Sea to the Red Sea – could be used to bypass the Suez Canal and provide a cheaper alternative for oil shipments.
“It opens a lot of doors and opportunities,” the pipeline company’s CEO, Izik Levi, told Foreign Policy.
Foreign Policy reported that the primary advantage of the oil pipeline would be that giant supertankers – which make up the bulk of modern oil shipping and which cannot fit through the Suez Canal – carrying oil sent by producers such as Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan, would be able to offload at Ashkelon on Israel’s Mediterranean coast. From there, the oil could be pumped to Eilat in the Gulf of Aqaba for transport to China, South Korea or elsewhere in Asia.
Oil flowing in the reverse direction, originating from countries in the Arabian peninsula, would also be able to bypass the Suez Canal.
A secretive venture
The EAPC pipeline was originally registered in 1968 as a 50-50 joint venture between Iran and Israel.
Prior to the Islamic Revolution of 1979 – before the two countries broke off relations – Israel and Iran enjoyed strong, but discreet, diplomatic relations.
The original aim of the pipeline had been to prevent a repeat of the 1956 Suez Crisis and secure Israeli and European energy imports. The EAPC has been described as “Israel’s most secretive company” and releases no public financial statements.
“Everything regarding the pipeline is secret, even the direction the oil is flowing,” said Leehee Goldenberg, an environmental lawyer, in the Financial Times in 2016.
‘Everything regarding the pipeline is secret, even the direction the oil is flowing’
– Leehee Goldenberg, lawyer
“People deserve to know what is flowing through their backyard.”
In 2014, however, the company made headlines after a leak from the pipeline resulted in Israel’s worst-ever environmental disaster.
The long-running boycott of Israel by Arab countries has meant that oil tankers acknowledging their docking at an Israeli port have faced difficulty in doing business with Arab countries – this has been used as one justification for the EAPC’s secrecy.
However, with the UAE abandoning the boycott and with other Gulf countries expected to follow, some see new opportunities for the line.
“If the concerns [with secrecy] go down significantly, the price will drop significantly,” Levi said.
“Then it becomes economically feasible and even more worthwhile.”
Levi said that, while he could not divulge the names of EAPC’s customers, they did include some of the world’s biggest companies.
Eilat’s coral reef is unique in that it has proved to be more resilient to climate change when many reefs around the globe are dying. It is also a big tourism draw.
But its proximity to the port means that even the most minor leak from one tanker would cause big, possibly irreversible, damage.
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