Israel freezes UAE oil deal over environmental concerns

This picture taken on February 10, 2021 shows an aerial view of (foreground) oil storage containers of the Eilat Ashkelon Pipeline Company (EAPC) in the mountains near Israel’s Red Sea port city of Eilat (C-L), and (background) the Jordanian coastline south of Aqaba (top L). – Israeli environmentalists are warning that the UAE-Israeli deal to bring Emirati crude oil by tanker to a pipeline in Eilat threatens unique Red Sea coral reefs and could lead to “the next ecological disaster”. The deal was signed after Israel and the UAE normalised ties late in 2020, and should come into force within the next few months. (Photo by MENAHEM KAHANA / AFP)

JERUSALEM, Undefined (AFP) — Israel’s environmental protection ministry said Sunday it was delaying implementation of a proposed oil transport deal with the United Arab Emirates, freezing a project that has angered environmentalists.

The agreement, which followed the UAE and Israel establishing diplomatic ties last year, would see Gulf oil brought to the Red Sea port of Eilat by tanker, than moved by pipeline through mainland Israel to the Mediterranean port of Ashkelon, from where it would be shipped to Europe.

This handout image provided by United Arab Emirates News Agency (WAM) on June 29, 2021 shows United Arab Emirates Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Co-operation Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed bin Sultan Al-Nahyan (R) welcoming Israel’s top diplomat Yair Lapid in Abu Dhabi. – Lapid opened the Jewish state’s first embassy in the Gulf during a trip to the United Arab Emirates, nine months after they signed a normalisation deal. (Photo by HO WAM / AFP)

The oil deal, involving Israel’s state-owned Europe-Asia Pipeline Company (EAPC) and an Israeli-Emirati company called MED-RED Land Bridge Ltd, has not launched.

But activists have sounded the alarm about potential threats to the northern Red Sea corals off Eilat’s coast.

Israeli environmental organisations challenged the plan in court, citing the risks of a devastating leak or spill, with tens of millions of tonnes of crude expected to be brought through Israel each year.

EAPC submitted its response in court last week, providing a risk assessment, which it claimed that the risk from the increased flow of crude was miniscule.

But on Sunday, Israel’s environmental protection ministry said the risk assessment “did not meet the conditions” stipulated by the ministry, and was therefore not valid.

The ministry told EAPC in a letter it was “delaying the evaluation of your preparations to increase activity in the Eilat port, until the government has a discussion and reaches a decision” on the project.

Israeli Environmental Protection Minister Tamar Zandberg arrives for a photo at the President’s residence during a ceremony for the new coalition government in Jerusalem, on June 14, 2021. (Photo by EMMANUEL DUNAND / AFP)

The decision to freeze the deal’s implementation was made by recently sworn-in Environmental Protection Minister Tamar Zandberg of the left wing Meretz party, who has been an outspoken opponent of the EAPC-Emirati agreement.

A spokesman for the government of Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, whose ideologically diverse coalition was sworn in last month, said his office had “asked the court for an extension of time, in order to respond to the petition filed by the environmental organisations.”

A spokeswoman for EAPC had no comment.

Activists argue the deal evaded tough regulatory scrutiny because of EAPC’s status as a state-owned firm working in the sensitive energy sector.