Tuesday, October 26

Israeli environment minister says UAE oil deal poses ecological risk


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DUBAI — An Israeli company’s deal with partners from the United Arab Emirates to transport oil from the Gulf to Europe through Israel poses ecological risks, Israel’s environment minister told Reuters on Monday while visiting the Expo fair in Dubai.

The Israeli government is assessing a request, which has outraged environmental advocates there, to increase substantially the amount of oil moved through Israel.

If approved, there would be an influx of oil tankers sailing the Red Sea into the Gulf of Aqaba to dock at Eilat to offload oil to be transported via an overland pipeline to the Mediterranean coast.

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Environmental Protection Minister Tamar Zandberg said the ministry had “environmental concerns” and that the government would make a decision “within weeks” on the request.

An oil spill could always happen, she said, which would put Eilat’s famed coral reefs in “great irreversible danger.”

“My opinion is that we don’t have to increase any environmental risk,” Zandberg said at the Israeli pavilion that houses the country’s exhibition at the world fair showgrounds.

The deal in question was struck last year between Israel’s state-owned Europe-Asia Pipeline Company (EAPC) and MED-RED Land Bridge, which has Emirati and Israeli owners.

EAPC criticized the minister’s comments as “populist” and said it was in compliance with all guidelines and regulations and that it was committed to protecting the environment.

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It also said a risk survey had been conducted by a company approved by the ministry. Details of the survey were not disclosed.

EAPC “will continue to engage in dialog” with the ministry, it said, but warned that “any attempt to undermine” the deal would “severely damage future businesses” between Israeli state companies and international businesses.

National Holding, which owns Petromal, the Emirati owner of MED-RED Land Bridge, did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the ministry’s concerns.

Zandberg said she has discussed the ministry’s concerns with the UAE’s ambassador to Israel and that both governments agree this was a commercial matter. It would not affect their nascent bilateral relations that were established last year, she said.

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The ministry said EAPC has asked for its cap on oil tankers docking at Eilat each year to be increased from 6 to 70. It also said EAPC has so far provided insufficient and inadequate information to demonstrate it can mitigate environment risks.

“Definitely it will raise the environmental risk in the Gulf (of Aqaba),” said the environment ministry’s director general, Galit Cohen. “Now the government should ask: Do we accept the risk, what is the benefit for this, and what is the cost?” (Reporting by Alexander Cornwell in Dubai; additional reporting by Ari Rabinovitch in Jerusalem; Editing by Mark Heinrich and Dan Grebler)

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