Speaking Wednesday in the Knesset, Health Minister Rabbi Yaakov Litzman, reiterating comments by several other ministers, said that Israel did not need threats from Hassan Nasrallah in order to make a decision on moving a large ammonia storage installation from Haifa Bay. “We have been working on this for a while, even before the babbling of Nasrallah,” he said. “This is not a new issue for us.”
Minister Rabbi Litzman was speaking a day after the Hizbullah head said that the terror group had the capability to fire missiles at Israel that would directly target the ammonia storage site in Haifa Bay, long the bane of residents. The facility is operated by Haifa Chemicals. In 2013, the Environment Ministry approved a plan to move it to a less-populated area of the Negev, because of fears that a leak or other incident could endanger the health and lives of the 800,000 residents of the region. The matter has been a cause célèbre for environmental groups for decades, who have organized many petitions, protests, and marches over the years to move the facility.
“It would have the same effect as an atomic bomb, according to the Israelis themselves,” Nasrallah told supporters Tuesday night in a speech, which, as usual, was shown to supporters via closed-circuit, as he fears that he will be targeted by the IDF if he emerges from his hiding place. “They have 15,000 tons of ammonia there, if one of our missiles would hit that site it would mean the deaths of tens of thousands – just like with a nuclear weapon.”
Although Nasrallah has made the threat before, MKs and ministers decried the threat, yet still insisted that Israel needs to take precautions. MK Yael Cohen-Paran, speaking for Zionist Camp, said Tuesday in a statement that “residents of Haifa face a double danger – both security and health. While the government is postponing the closure of this facility, it provides a good target for Nasrallah. Do we need to wait for a true tragedy before the government wakes up, and understands that Haifa could burn to the ground?”
In response, Environment Minister Avi Gabay said that the government had already issued a tender for the establishment of an ammonia facility in southern Israel, and plans to close down the Haifa facility. Speaking on Israel Radio Wednesday, he said that the country “does not have to conduct itself according to the threats of Nasrallah, but we are happy that he raised consciousness about this issue. We will continue to move forward with our plan to move the facility.”
Yonah Yahav, the Mayor of Haifa, said he is also grateful for the threats made by Nasrallah to attack the city’s ammonia facility. Yahav says “we are happy for help” in putting the environmental issue on the agenda, “even if it arrives from a frightened man hiding in his bunker.”