Netanyahu Seeking to Keep Open Dangerous Ammonia Tank in Haifa Bay

Experts warn that tank is unsound, thousands could die if it falls apart, but Netanyahu says he wants to avoid layoff of workers on site

The ammonia tank in Haifa.
Hagai Frid

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is seeking to enable the ammonia tank in the Haifa Bay to continue operating for another two or three years, until an alternative tank is built in the Negev, sources told TheMarker.

The Haifa District Court ordered Haifa Chemicals to empty the tank by April 1, after a team of experts warned at the beginning of the year that the 12,000-ton tank was at the brink of falling apart, and that 16,000 people in the surrounding areas could die as a result.

The tank had supplied manufacturers around Israel with ammonia, which is used to manufacture products including fertilizer.

In order to enable the tank to continue operating, the government must push Environmental Protection Minister Zeev Elkin to extend its operation permit. The current one expires in June.

The source said that as the first phase, Netanyahu’s bureau is seeking to extend the tank’s operations by a few weeks, in order to examine the legal repercussions.

The government’s initial stance had been that the security consideration was more important than any others. Experts had warned that the tank as well as the ship supplying it with imported ammonia were at risk of missile strikes from Hezbollah or Hamas. Prof. Ehud Keinan, who drafted the initial warning, noted that it takes nearly a day to unload the ship, and that if only one of the ship’s five tanks were to be compromised, the disaster could exceed the effects of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

However, once Netanyahu became involved, the state’s stance started to shift. Netanyahu has said he is seeking to avoid “thousands” of layoffs. Haifa Chemicals has said that shutting the tank will involve laying off a few hundred workers.

The Environmental Protection Ministry believes the tank is dangerous and should be shuttered.

The Supreme Court is due to debate the tank’s future and consider alternatives within the next few days.

In a press release, the Prime Minister’s Bureau stated that Netanyahu had held a meeting to inquire about the legal ramifications of delaying the tank’s closure by a few weeks, in order to save jobs. The press release stated that Netanyahu had not spoken with Haifa Chemical’s owner, but that the owner had spoken with bureau officials.

The Manufacturers Association is calling to keep the tank in operation, in order to preserve jobs at Haifa Chemicals and at other factories that use ammonia.

The Supreme Court criticized the Manufacturers Association for its cynical argument, stating that Haifa Chemicals knew a year and a half ago that the tank was to be shuttered, but did not prepare.

Haifa Mayor Yona Yahav called Netanyahu’s involvement surprising, after the PMO was the first to receive the scientists’ warning, and then issued no response.