An IDF base in the West Bank - Emil Salman
An IDF base in the West Bank. Photo by Emil Salman
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The Israel Defense Forces is ignoring the requirement to submit environmental quality reports with apparent impunity, according to a senior Environmental Protection Ministry official.

Eighteen months ago, on a tour of IDF bases in the West Bank, Itzhak Ben-David, the Environmental Protection Ministry's deputy director general for enforcement, observed that fuel and oil were leaking into the ground. Such fuel leaks threaten ground water and soil quality.

Ben-David was told that an officer would be dealing with the matter, but his requests to meet with that officer went unanswered.

After failing to receive the results of tests the IDF conducted, two weeks ago Ben-David wrote the Military Advocate General, Brig. Gen. Danny Efroni.

"A civilian polluter would have already been investigated by the ministry's enforcement officials and long since been indicted, probably found guilty and made to pay a heavy fine," Ben-David wrote.

He added that he did not understand why the army was unwilling to inform the ministry of its test results and the steps it was taking to rectify the situation. "Do you have something to hide?" Ben-David wrote, once again demanding to receive the information.

Sources in the Environmental Protection Ministry say the IDF seems to be in no hurry to comply with the law when it comes to environmental cleanup.

In one case, the army has delayed cleaning up large quantities of asbestos at the Ketziot base in the Negev. In that case, the army was required almost four years ago to deal with the problem. It finally agreed to do so but action has yet to be taken.

In the case of the bases in the West Bank, the ministry says the fuel pumps on the bases actually have equipment to prevent leaks, but neglect and carelessness have made testing all the more essential.

The fuel leaks in the West Bank bases are a focus of the ministry's frustration with the IDF, one of the country's biggest polluters. The ministry's ability to oversee and enforce such a cleanup on the IDF is limited. This is true not only with regard to pollution prevention, but also when it comes to supervision of various dangerous materials.

Two years ago, some progress was seen when the army became a key partner in dealing with the purification of waste from its bases. Recently the army has even begun to use purified wastewater to irrigate parks in the Negev.

The cabinet is soon to vote on a procedure that would test the civilian ability to oversee the military in environmental protection, by requiring the army to allow monitors immediate access to any base unless special activities were underway.

Justice Minister Yaakov Neeman recently informed the Environmental Protection Ministry that it can fine the army. He rejected the Defense Ministry's argument that this was merely moving money from one pocket to the other.

The IDF Spokesman's Office responded: "The IDF is making great efforts to protect environmental quality, among other means by limiting the damage from pollution by fuel stations in the West Bank. Among these actions has been a significant reduction in the number of such facilities recently."

The spokesman's office said the study on the fuel leaks had recently been given to the military advocate general's office, where a decision would be made.

"Following the deputy director general's letter to the MAG, a meeting is to be held soon with Environmental Protection Ministry officials to deal with the legal issues, recognizing the importance of the issue and the common interest.