Gantz’s opposition to shipping large amounts of crude oil from the UAE through Israel bolsters the position of other opposing cabinet members, including Israel’s foreign and environmental protection ministers

Lee Yaron Dec. 9, 2021 5:07 PM

An oil tanker in Eilat, last month.
An oil tanker in Eilat, last month.Credit: Sasi Hores

Defense Minister Benny Gantz has announced his opposition to the controversial deal with the United Arab Emirates to ship large quantities of oil through Israel, as environmentalists continue to call for the contract’s cancellation.

The Europe Asia Pipeline Co. signed an agreement to transport oil from the UAE through Eilat to Israel’s Mediterranean coast. From there, it is due to be shipped to customers in Europe.

At a closed-door meeting on Wednesday, Gantz said that he would support suspending the contract until its implications are investigated further, Haaretz has learned.

Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz, last month.
Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz, last month.Credit: Hadas Parush

He made the remarks following a meeting with the pipeline company’s CEO, Itzik Levy, and its chairman, Erez Halfon. The decision to suspend or rescind the contract, which is strongly opposed by environmentalists, is ultimately in the hands of Prime Minister Naftali Bennett. But Gantz’s opposition to the contract, which would substantially boost the amount of oil transported through Israel, bolsters the position of cabinet members who have already spoken out against the deal.

After environmental groups filed a petition in the High Court of Justice in a bid to halt the agreement, the cabinet was given until next week to present the government’s position regarding the contract, which was signed during the term of former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Several sources have said that Gantz’s decision was finalized after a study by the Tel Aviv-based Institute for National Security Studies argued that the deal presents threats to Israeli security.

Knesset member Alon Tal of Gantz’s Kahol Lavan party, who opposes the agreement due to its major environmental risks, was a key player in urging Gantz to address the issue. Four other cabinet ministers – Environmental Protection Minister Tamar Zandberg; Energy Minister Karine Elharrar; Foreign Minister Yair Lapid; and Tourism Minister Yoel Razvozov – have already publicly come out against it. The Finance Ministry, which oversees the government-owned Europe Asia Pipeline Co., supports the agreement. At the Knesset this week, a Foreign Ministry representative said that the diplomatic fallout that would be caused if Israel rescinded the agreement could be managed.

If the deal is implemented, the number of oil tankers arriving in Eliat would increase significantly, from a handful a year to dozens. Each such ship can hold up to 270,000 tons of oil. The amount of oil stored at EAPC’s facilities in Ashkelon prior to being loaded on tankers for shipment to Europe would also balloon.

The Environmental Protection Ministry has rejected an environmental impact survey conducted by the pipeline company, saying it failed to meet the ministry’s requirements.


Foreign Ministry: Israel Can Cope With Fallout of Cancelling UAE Oil Pipeline Deal

Environmental Protection Minister Tamar Zandberg, a fierce opponent of the deal, says there would be no political consequences of an Israeli withdrawal. The Foreign Ministry disagrees, but says it would be containable

Zafrir Rinat Dec. 8, 2021

An oil tanker at the Eilat port, in November.
An oil tanker at the Eilat port, in November.Credit: Shishi Horesh

The Foreign Ministry said Tuesday that the cancellation of the Israel Europe-Asia Pipeline, which would allow the United Arab Emirates to move oil though its pipeline from Eilat to Ashkelon, will damage relations with the Gulf monarchy, but not beyond anything that cannot be managed.

The Foreign Ministry’s director of its Department of Gulf States, Roi Dvir, presented the position after Environmental Protection Minister Tamar Zandberg told the Knesset’s Interior and Environmental Protection Committee she had looked into the issue and found there would be no political fallout from a withdrawal from the agreement. Dvir made do with a brief statement to the committee, without elaborating.

During the meeting, chaired by MK Yorai Lahav-Hertzanu (Yesh Atid), two main issues came up: To what extent does Israel need the oil transported in the framework of the agreement, and what are the environmental implications of making Israel a land bridge for oil transport?

Europe-Asia Pipeline CEO Yitzhak Levy told the committee that some of the oil transported via the pipeline according to the agreement has recently been sold to Bazan oil refineries in Israel, and that another deal to buy more oil is in the offing. Levy also said there have been two cases in Israel lately when a lack of crude oil appeared on the horizon.

“This shows that increasing the amount of oil transported through Israel can indeed also help the local fuel economy,” he said. In a previous discussion of the issue in the Knesset, a representative of the Energy Ministry said that the Israeli economy does not need the fuel it would gain from the agreement.

Protestors against the pipeline deal outside of Yair Lapid's house, in September.

The Europe-Asia Pipeline, like other industrial concerns, operates with a permit for toxins, which allows it to possess materials considered dangerous. The current permit allows it to handle a total of 2 million tons of oil a year, and it has not yet exceeded this quantity.

Environmental Ministry Deputy Director for Industries Shuli Nezer told the committee that the ministry does not intend to grant Europe-Asia a permit to deal with a larger quantity. The ministry’s position is that further risks cannot be allowed in the Eilat Port. If the ministry persists in this position, Europe-Asia will find it difficult to increase the number of oil tankers, as it is meant to do according to the agreement it signed.

Nezer also discounted Europe-Asia’s claim that there would be no change in the operation of the company’s overland pipeline (formerly known as the Eilat-Ashkelon Pipeline). According to Nezer, the agreement would lead to an increase in the quantity of oil flowing through the pipeline, from 1.2 million tons a year to 20 tons a year. “This means greater wear and tear on the pipeline,” she added.

An additional major environmental implication raised at the meeting is the odor nuisance that would be created by storing the oil in Eilat and Ashkelon. A resident of Ashkelon, Svetlana Oksana, told the committee that hardly a week goes by without severe odor in the area where she lives. “In one instance last year, the whole city of Ashkelon was wrapped in terrible smells,” said Meital Amitay, director of the Association of Cities for the Environment in the Ashkelon region, one of the agencies that monitors the Europe-Asia facilities in Ashkelon.

Eilat Mayor Lankri added that last month, there were three odor-nuisance instances in the city’s Hermon neighborhood. “It is inconceivable for the residents to be exposed to such a health risk, and that is even before the agreement has been fully implemented,” he said.

Another environmental risk associated with the contract is damage to desalination plants from a leak from one of the Europe-Asia facilities in the Ashkelon area. Prof. Jack Gilron, a desalination expert from Ben-Gurion University, warned that such a leak could cause oil to reach the desalination plants within 10 to 15 minutes. The oil would damage the membranes in these facilities, and shut down the facilities, which now provide most of Israel’s drinking water, and repair work could take six months or a year. During this time Israel would have no choice but to increase its exploitation of the aquifer and the Kinneret, which would deplete these sources of water for future use.