The Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee voted on Sunday to extend the order banning publication of information on the operations of the Eilat Ashkelon Pipeline Company for five more years, allowing the company to continue operating secretly.
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The Eilat-Ashkelon Pipeline Co (EAPC) was a joint venture set up between Israel and Iran in 1968 to transport Iranian oil via Israel to the Mediterranean. Ties were cut after Iran’s 1979 Islamic revolution, and the enemies are now locked in arbitration that could be worth billions of dollars.
The committee also voted to expand the order to the company that will replace the Eilat Ashkelon Pipeline Company when its franchise ends in September – the Europe Asia Pipeline Company. The order states that releasing information about the activities of the pipeline company is an espionage offense punishable by up to 15 years imprisonment.
Last summer, following a petition to the High Court of Justice by the Union for Environmental Defense, the state decided that environmental groups, planning and building bodies and business-licensing agencies would not be subject to the ban. This decision was made after an oil spill from the company’s pipeline that resulted in serious damage to the En Evrona Nature Reserve in the Arava in 2014.
The Eilat Ashkelon Oil Pipeline franchise ended in March after 49 years and it was decided that a new company, called the Europe Asia Pipeline Co, begin operations and take over the former EAPC in September.
The government first published the original secrecy order in 1968, a few months after the pipeline began to operate. According to the order: “Any information involving the Eilat Ashkelon Pipeline, including investments in the pipeline itself, investments involving its operations, work on the pipeline, sources of the fuel and its uses, including sale of the fuel to foreign elements, is declared a secret matter.” The finance minister at the time appointed the chief military censor as the official who can decide whether to allow publication of matters associated with the pipeline.
The Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee voted unanimously on Sunday to establish a new sub-committee that will decide whether to approve extending the order. The members of the subcommittee are MKs Avi Dichter (Likud), Moti Yogev (Habayit Hayehudi) and Ofer Shelah (Yesh Atid). The three lawmakers examined the confidential material and they in turn voted unanimously to extend the order. People present at the meeting said that none of the MKs on the committee criticized the extension of the secrecy order or opposed the measure in the initial discussion.