Oil Transport Deal with UAE on Hold

YERUSHALAYIM -
The reef in Eilat. (Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90)

Israel has announced the delay of an oil-transport deal with the United Arab Emirates, a decision that could adversely affect fledgling relations between the two countries.

The Environmental Protection Ministry said on Sunday that due to flaws in the environmental impact study conducted for the project, it was putting it on hold until a fresh review could be undertaken.

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, then moved by pipeline through mainland Israel to the Mediterranean port of Ashkelon, from where it would be shipped to Europe.

The agreement has encountered the vehement opposition of the former and current environmental protection ministers, the Israel Nature and Parks Authority, the local coastal authorities, a forum of some 20 environmental organizations, scores of scientists and Eilat residents, according to The Times of Israel.

Environmental Protection Minister Tamar Zandberg said on Sunday that she would not allow the project to go forward until the government has had a chance to hold a “strategic discussion.”

“It remains unclear which, if any, government ministries, knew about the deal before it was signed. The contents have not been made public,” Times of Israel noted.

Zandberg said that the anticipated economic benefits in no way justified the damage it could cause to the coral reefs of the Gulf of Eilat and city’s tourist industry.

The ministry notified Israel’s state-owned Europe Asia Pipeline Company (EAPC) on Sunday that it had rejected an environmental risk survey carried out by the EAPC, which characterized the dangers as “negligible.”

In a letter to EAPC executives, Rani Amir, head of the ministry’s Marine Environmental Protection Unit, said the ministry would “not approve the risk survey in any way.”

However, Zandberg’s intervention could have an undesirable impact on the diplomatic environment.

Israel Hayom quoted an anonymous senior source in Abu Dhabi warning on Monday that the freeze “could definitely damage the relations being formed with the Israeli government and Israeli commercial companies.”

The source said that canceling the deal would be “a violation of all the mutual economic agreements signed in the Abraham Accords.”

The UAE companies “will think hard on whether to do business with Israeli government-owned companies when they know there is a reasonable chance that the signed deal will be canceled. We don’t intervene in the internal affairs of other countries, but it is clear to us that this is a step driven by political considerations,” he said.