Photo Credit: Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90
Internal Affairs and the Environment Committee Chairwoman MK Miki Haimovich (Blue&White).

Internal Affairs and the Environment Committee Chairwoman MK Miki Haimovich (Blue&White) on Tuesday said that the government is planning to transform Eilat and Ashkelon into “oil cities,” and the number of oil tankers in both the Mediterranean and the Red Sea will increase significantly, having already grown alarmingly over the past few years.

Addressing said a meeting on the oil spill that recently dumped tons of tar along much of Israel’s Mediterranean coastline, Chairwoman Haimovich said the tar pollution was “one of the most serious ecological disasters” in Israel’s history according to the Nature and Parks Authority.

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Minister of Environmental Protection MK Gila Gamliel (Likud) noted that the government approved on Tuesday the allocation of NIS 45 million ($13.6 million) for the removal of tar from Israel’s Mediterranean beaches. According to Gamliel, the Ministry of Environmental Protection has already begun the removal of some 1,200 tons of tar and other debris that washed ashore onto Israeli coastlines over the past week.

Rani Amir, director of the Ministry’s National Marine Protection Division, said, “We were all taken by surprise on February 17, but we were prepared. The national emergency plan was activated immediately.”

The contamination, Amir said, is categorized as a Tier 2 spill, one of the three levels of oil spills categorized by the International Petroleum Industry Environmental Conservation Association.

Asked by Chairwoman Haimovich why the spill is considered only a Tier 2 event, Amir said, “The contamination hit several local municipalities, and we knew that within two to three hours it would reach all the beaches—but there was no contamination in the sea. There was tar, but no liquid contamination. Everything flowed to the beaches. We did not anticipate danger to power stations, ports, and desalination facilities. The operations room was ready. We’ve been simulating such a situation for as long as I can remember. All the local municipalities knew what needed to be done.”

According to Amir, the Government decided to add as many as 12 permanent positions in the Ministry of Environmental Protection, but none have been approved as of yet.

Rotem Bramli of the Finance Ministry’s Budget Division said that in 2017 the Treasury allocated 90 permanent positions to the Ministry of Environmental Protection. He added that the ministry could have designated some of these positions for the NIS 100 million ($30.25 million) Fund for the Prevention of Marine Pollution, but chose not to do so. “The ministry’s workforce has grown significantly over the past few years,” Bramli observed.

In response, Minister Gamliel said, “You are talking nonsense. Show us data. The lack of permanent positions in the ministry is worrying. The problem is that there is no governance. When there will be a state budget, we’ll take care of it. Don’t tell us stories. There are no budget surpluses in the fund.”

Chairwoman Haimovich said the Ministry of Environmental Protection is significantly underfunded. “You are saving, but then cause damage that will cost the state budget more,” she told the Finance Ministry’s representative. “We will all pay if, God forbid, a major contamination will take place here. We won’t have water to drink, and our children will not be able to swim in the sea for decades. Do you understand this?”

The budget of the Fund for the Prevention of Marine Pollution should not be used for adding permanent positions, she argued.

Haimovich said she was troubled by the issues raised during the meeting. “We all understand that it is only a matter of time before a wide-scale contamination disaster takes place at sea. Unfortunately, from what we have heard today, the Ministry of Environmental Protection is not prepared to deal with such a wide-scale disaster, due to the [lack of sufficient funding for the ministry] over the past few years.”

“Moreover,” she said, “the plans the Government of Israel is currently advancing, which seek to turn Ashkelon and Eilat into ‘oil cities,’ only add to the grave threat of a wide-scale environmental disaster that will hit the sea and Israel’s beaches.”

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David writes news at JewishPress.com.