Israel's Environment Minister Pushes to Reverse UAE Oil Pipeline Deal

Environmental Protection Minister Gila Gamliel warned of the damage of transporting petrol from the Gulf state through Israel

Zafrir Rinat
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Eilat Ashkelon pipeline company compound in 2019.
Eilat Ashkelon pipeline company compound in 2019.Credit: Olivier Fitoussi
Zafrir Rinat

Israel's environmental protection minister on Tuesday called on the head of the National Security Council to cancel the oil transport deal recently signed with the United Arab Emirates due to environmental and security concerns. 

Minister Gila Gamliel warned in a letter to National Security Council head Meir Ben Shabbat that transporting the petrol through Israel would cause environmental damage and the increased risk of attacks on vessels and storage facilities in the region.

After the deal was finalized six months ago, the Europe Asia Pipeline Company announced it expects a significant increase in the volume of oil transported between Eilat and Ashkelon and the number of oil tankers arriving at Israeli ports. The deal essentially enables the transport of UAE oil to the Mediterranean via the company's pipeline.

Estimates are that the number of oil tankers arriving in Israel will increase annually from six to over 50. In accordance with the deal,  tankers are already arriving at Eilat carrying hundreds of thousands of tons of oil. 

None of the government ministries were involved in devising the deal, nor was it presented to them. Gamliel has written to Ben Shabbat several times, requesting a meeting on the subject, which was canceled several times.

The Environmental Protection Ministry argues that the deal should be scrapped due to the many risks to marine ecological systems in case of malfunctions or hostile actions. In her letter, Gamliel noted that during the latest fighting between Israel and Hamas, a rocket fired from Gaza directly hit a large fuel container in Ashkelon, which is located near the Eilat-Ashkelon’s pipeline storage compound.

According to reports by professionals at the ministry, the company’s Eilat terminal is located in the most sensitive part of the city’s famed Coral Beach Nature Reserve and Conservation area. Due to the structure of the Eilat Bay and the relatively strong currents and winds, any leak will cause rapid contamination of coral reefs.

In addition, they noted that neither the ministry nor the pipeline company have the means to contain and stop a significant oil leak as their equipment is outdated. Moreover, the pipeline’s facilities, which were constructed in the 1970s, raise concerns of malfunctions.

Oil tanker arrivals to Israel have decreased in recent years, as oil consumption in the country declined. Thus, the pipeline company claimed that the increased number of tanker arrivals as a result of the new deal would merely restore the former status quo. The ministry, however, argues that this marks a significant increase for Eilat and that would involve additional environmental risks.

A month ago, several environmental organizations petitioned the High Court of Justice against the pipeline company’s oil deal. The state is scheduled to submit a preliminary response to the petition within two weeks.

The Prime Minister's Office said in a statement that “As early as last March, the National Security Council sent Gamliel a letter in which she was informed that the NSC does not deal with this matter. This publication, as well as the additional letter on the same topic, are puzzling.”

The NSC told Gamliel that the person in charge of handling the oil deal is Deputy Director of the PM’s Office, Lior Farber, and that the NSC will address diplomatic and security aspects, should such arise. Earlier this year, the director general of the Environmental Protection Ministry wrote directly to the PM’s Office requesting a meeting in which the deal would be presented, but none such meeting took place.

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