Opposition leaders slammed Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu on Tuesday for his reported decision to seek a postponement in the closure of the Haifa ammonia tanks. “We cannot leave this ticking bomb in the backyard of hundreds of thousands of Israelis,” said Yesh Atid head Yair Lapid. “Safety is the only issue that should be concerning the government. This is a matter of life or death.”
In a statement, Netanyahu’s office denied seeking such a long-term postponement. “If any postponement is sought, it would be for several weeks, not two years as the report states, and that postponement would only be implemented in order to ensure that mass layoffs of workers do not occur,” the Prime Minister’s office said.
According to MK Amir Peretz (Zionist Camp), Netanyahu “is ignoring due process and court decisions that affect the lives of millions of people. This raises questions on his qualifications for the office of Prime Minister.” That he did not intervene in the matter earlier in order to make alternate arrangements for the storage of the ammonia, leaving it to the last minute, “is another failure by Netanyahu to strategically assess Israel’s future needs.”
A report on Channel Two on Tuesday said that Netanyahu had told ministers that he would seek a postponement of the closure of the ammonia storage facility operated by Haifa Chemicals. A court order would have the facility close down altogether next month, but a postponement is likely, because alternative facilities for the storage of the ammonia have not yet been built.
Several postponements have already been issued by the court that ordered the closure, but Netanyahu, according to the report, is seeking a two-year delay. The ammonia stored in the facility is essential in the production of many industrial and consumer items, such as fertilizers, cement, paper, medicines, food products and much more – and according to the report, Netanyahu is concerned that the economy will be severely harmed and that tens of thousands of workers could be laid off if Israel has no place to store ammonia.
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 célebré for environmental groups for decades, who have organized many petitions, protests, and marches over the years to move the facility. However, no action has been taken on building that replacement facility yet.
The report quoted opposition officials as saying that Netanyahu had decided to get involved at this point under pressure from a long-time friend of his, Jules Trump, an American-Jewish businessman who owns the facility (no relation to the U.S. President). Mr. Trump, according to the report, has been in Israel for the past several months, seeking to pressure government officials not to close down the facility.
In a statement, the Prime Minister’s office said that Netanyahu denied any pressure from Mr. Trump on the issue. The Prime Minister “rejects all efforts to denounce his actions on the ammonia storage facility issue. He has not spoken with Jules Trump for over a year, and has never discussed the facility issue with him.”