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Hind Al Soulia - Riyadh - News about freezing the deal came as Israel appointed its first ambassador to the UAE.
Caption: An Emirati guard stands during the opening ceremony for the new UAE embassy in Tel Aviv, July 14. (AP)
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, then moved by pipeline through mainland Israel to the Mediterranean port of Ashkelon, from where it would be shipped to Europe.
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 been 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, in which it claimed that the danger 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.
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.
First Israeli ambassador
News about the freezing of the deal came as Israel appointed its first ambassador to the UAE following the signing of a normalisation deal last year, the Israeli foreign ministry said on Sunday
Foreign Minister Yair Lapid said in a statement that he has chosen Amir Haik, an economist and former director of the Ministry of Industry, Trade and Employment, to take the job.
“Haik has rich experience and knowledge in the fields of economics and tourism,” Lapid said, adding that Haik is “the right man to establish the bridge between Israel and the UAE.”
The appointment came after Israel opened its embassy in Abu Dhabi in June and the UAE opened its embassy in Tel Aviv in July. Israel and the UAE signed the US-brokered normalisation deal in September 2020.
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