UAE said appalled by Israeli plans to examine controversial pipeline deal

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The government plans to review a controversial agreement with the United Arab Emirates to channel Gulf oil through Israel on its way to European markets, the daily Haaretz reported on Friday.

The report came just hours before Prime Minister Naftali Bennett spoke to Crown Prince of the United Arab Emirates, Mohammed bin Zayed al Nahyan, in his first conversation with the de facto ruler of the Gulf Kingdom since taking office.

Channel 13 said that despite the friendly nature of the call, the UAE was seriously concerned about the deal reassessment report, causing tension between Abu Dhabi and Jerusalem.

According to Haaretz, Bennett and Secretary of State Yair Lapid plan to hold a high-level meeting on the issue next week and the new Environment Minister Tamar Zandberg is against the deal.

Earlier this week, the state notified the High Court that the new administration was planning a thorough review of the deal.

They responded to a petition tabled in May by three green organizations alleging that they would annul the letter of intent signed with the UAE by the state-run Europe Asia Pipeline Company in October for not being discussed or approved by the government, yet open for consultation with experts and the public.

Under the agreement, EAPC will transport crude oil and oil-related products from its Red Sea terminal in Eilat to its terminal in Ashkelon on the southern Mediterranean coast via a land-based pipeline connecting the two.

The former and current environmental protection minister, the Israeli nature and parks authority, the local coastal authorities, a forum of around 20 environmental organizations, numerous scientists and residents of Eilat oppose this.

The resistance is in large part due to the EAPC’s shabby environmental footprint and numerous past leaks – it was responsible for the largest environmental disaster in Israel’s history seven years ago when one of its pipelines broke and about 1.3 million gallons of crude oil spilled into it Evrona. rivers nature reserve in southern Israel.

EAPC told the court that its own risk assessments of the likelihood of a large-scale release are negligible.

Oil seeps between desert bushes in the Evrona nature reserve, December 7, 2014. (Ministry of Environment / Roi Talbi)

According to Haaretz, Energy Minister Karine Elharrar said at a meeting in her office earlier this week that she did not see any energy benefit for Israel from the agreement, but was not aware of the full details.

“Our position in the Ministry of Energy is that we do not see any energy advantage for the Israeli economy in this agreement,” Haaretz quoted her as saying to environmental activists. “If it’s canceled, we don’t see any damage in the ball.”

New energy minister Karine Elharrar (center) and ex-minister Yuval Steinitz (left) at a handover ceremony on June 15, 2021. (Shlomi Amsalem / GPO)

In response to the report, Elharrar told Haaretz that she regretted internal conversations had leaked but that she stood by her remarks. She made it clear that her position was based on media reports of the deal and that neither she nor her office knew the details of the deal firsthand.

In court, the EAPC alleged that, as a state-owned company, it was under no obligation to report or be approved by government ministries “other than those who legally monitor its operations” of the agreements it signs. The operation of the pipeline, which was created before the Islamic Revolution to transport Iranian oil to Europe via Israel, is not subject to any public oversight as it is considered a matter of national security.

The Treasury Department, under which the EAPC operates, has stated in the past that it has no information about the signed MOU.

Despite the concerns, it seems unlikely that Bennett and Lapid will willingly postpone the deal if it upsets the UAE.

Israel and the Emirates announced in August that they would normalize diplomatic relations and unearth more than a decade of covert ties. Later, Bahrain, Sudan and Morocco also joined the US-brokered Abraham Agreement.

The new government has set itself the task of promoting the Abrahamic Accords. Lapid confirmed earlier this week that he will be traveling to Morocco on an official visit and that his Moroccan counterpart will visit Israel after direct flights between Rabat and Tel Aviv were renewed later this month.

Foreign Minister Yair Lapid (left) shakes hands with the United Arab Emirates’ Foreign Minister, Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed al-Nahyan, in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates on Tuesday, June 29, 2021. (Shlomi Amsalem / Government Press Office via AP)

The pipeline was not mentioned in the readings from the conversation between Bennett and the Crown Prince of the UAE on Friday.

Bennett called bin Zayed to congratulate him on the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Adha and to discuss the burgeoning relationship between the two countries, a statement from Bennett’s office said.

“The Prime Minister thanked the Crown Prince for opening an embassy in Israel and for the official visit by Foreign Minister Yair Lapid,” the statement said.

Bennett also highlighted the importance of the strategic relationship between Israel and the United Arab Emirates on a variety of topics, saying that the United Arab Emirates’ attitude towards Israel “has been an important change and an inspiration to other countries and leaders in the region was “.

“The two have agreed to stay in touch and meet in the future,” the statement said.

The United Arab Emirates confirmed the conversation, saying that the two heads of state and government “discussed, along with a number of issues, the cooperation relations between the two countries and ways of improving them. Regional and international interests. “

Last month, Lapid traveled to the United Arab Emirates to open the Israeli embassy, ​​the first official visit by an Israeli minister to the Gulf state.

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