Tourism Minister Yoel Razvozov (Blue&White) said on Sunday that he opposes the Trans-Israel Pipeline (in Hebrew: Eilat-Ashkelon Pipeline) deal to transport Emirati oil from the Gulf of Eilat to Ashkelon. The position of the Tourism Ministry that was submitted to the State Attorney’s Office following a petition to the High Court of Justice, states, among other things: “Any damage that may be caused to the beaches of Eilat, the Gulf of Eilat and the coral reefs will lead to the city of Eilat losing its existence as a tourism city.”
The sad thing is that should the Israeli deal be canceled, the UAE is already looking at the option of building an alternative pipeline through Egyptian territory. The Egyptian pipeline would cross the Sinai from the resort town of Taba—about 4 miles from Eilat to El Arish on the Mediterranean, about 30 miles from Ashkelon. This deal will have all the disadvantages of the original Trans-Israel Pipeline, including the threat to tourism along the Red Sea, without any measure of control.
Minister Rezbozov told Ynet on Sunday: “It’s important that we not spill our tourism out with the oil. The economic loss, whatever it may be, from the cancellation of the Trans-Israel Pipeline deal, does not equal the damage that could be caused to the Israeli economy in general and Eilat in particular if the city’s enormous tourism potential is destroyed. Natural resources, which are significant generators of tourism such as the coral reef in Eilat, must not be harmed. Beyond the fact that the values of sustainability and environmental protection are among the most important in the modern world and should be strived for if there is a chance of any damage to the shores of Eilat – the agreement is simply not worth it.”
So by now the Ministry of Environmental Protection, the Ministry of Tourism, and the Ministry of Energy, too, it appears, believe that the meager sums the State of Israel is expected to receive as a result of the Trans-Israel Pipeline deal do not justify the risks to the environment, the city of Eilat, and Israel’s desalination facilities on the Ashkelon side of the pipeline.
In December 2014, a breach near the southern end of the pipeline led to a massive oil spill into the Evrona Nature Reserve.
On May 11, 2021, the Pipeline was damaged on the Ashkelon side by a rocket from Gaza.
Calcalist on Sunday presented the math: the government-owned company Trans-Israel Pipeline’s oil deal with the UAE’s Med-Red Land Bridge firm (MRLB) would generate only meager revenue for the country, at best a few million dollars a year. The calculation is based on data published by TRANS-ISRAEL PIPELINE itself, according to which a maximum of 60 tankers a year are expected to reach the port of Eilat or Ashkelon. If you multiply that number by $385,000, which is the current fee for a tanker in the Suez Canal, the maximum revenue potential of the venture is $23 million a year. Now, from this figure, we should deduct operating expenses and the share of MRLB and Israeli entrepreneurs Malachi Alper and Yona Fogel in those measly $23 million. This amount is very far from estimates that spoke of high profits to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars for Israel.
In comparison, according to the Tourism Ministry, the loss of income from an oil spill catastrophe on Eilat’s shore would cause a direct loss of income worth NIS 4.5 billion ($1.5 billion), and indirect loss of income of NIS 3 billion ($1 billion). The estimated job losses, based on 2019 employment figures, would be 13,000.
Minister of Environmental Protection Tamar Zandberg (Meretz) responded on Sunday: “A maximum of $23 million a year is what the state is supposed to get from the Trans-Israel Pipeline deal that was signed in darkness. It is not worth the irreversible damage that could be caused to the coral reef in Eilat, and the real risk to the environment, tourism, and the city’s economy.”
Finally, the Foreign Ministry, which was expected to be heavily in favor of the Trans-Israel Pipeline, appears to have had a change of heart. The initial position of the Foreign Ministry stated that it sees great importance in implementing the agreement with the UAE company and that its breach should be avoided as much as possible. But according to Ynet, on Sunday the Foreign Ministry said that the above was an outdated position: “The publication does not express the current position of the Foreign Ministry as it has been brought to the attention of the Foreign Minister at a joint meeting with the Ministry of Energy and the Environment. The Ministry’s position is being examined and it gives top priority to the environmental aspects and the risks to the Negev and the marine environment involved in this agreement.”
“Once the data in the risk survey are clarified, we will examine the policy implications involved, but no harm will be done to the environment for economic reasons,” the Foreign Ministry insisted.
At this point, only the Finance Ministry appears to still support the pipeline deal, but only based on formalities, namely, if a deal was signed it should be honored, or the other party must be made aware of the new difficulties.