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Libyan ship caused massive oil spill, Israeli minister blames Iran

Environmental minister doubles down on accusation while some in government cast doubt on terror angle

President Reuven Rivlin visits a beach to survey the damage after a massive oil spill on Israel's coast in February 2021. (Photo: Amos Ben Gershom/GPO)

Israel's Environmental Protection Minister Gila Gamliel doubled down on her accusation that a massive oil spill which damaged most of Israel’s Mediterranean coast was an act of terrorism by Iran.

Gamliel said that Iran orchestrated “environmental terrorism” against the Jewish state using the Libyan “pirate ship.”

“This is a crude oil tanker named Emerald, Libyan owned and operated, which carried cargo in a pirated manner, from Iran to Syria. The ship flies the Panamanian flag,” Gamliel said.

Following a two-week investigation, Gamliel said the Environmental Protection Ministry discovered that Emerald had turned off its identification system as it passed through the Suez Canal and later in the vicinity of Israel's coast. While remaining within dozens of kilometers from the Israeli coast for nearly 24 hours, the ship reportedly spilled large quantities of oil into the sea, according to the Israeli ministry’s findings.

In a tweet, Gamliel explicitly accused the Iranian regime, suggesting that it was an intentional act of Iranian terrorism against Israel.

“Iran is initiating terrorism not only with nuclear weapons and efforts to entrench itself on our borders. Iran is initiating terrorism by harming the environment,” Gamliel said.

Defense officials, however, were reportedly surprised by Gamliel’s claims and said they could not confirm their accuracy. Threats from Iran are normally handled by the Israeli military and intelligence services. And in this case, it seems Gamliel made her statements public without consulting the Israeli defense establishment and intelligence community, and many disputed her claims.

While few Israeli security officials doubt Iran's ability to harm Israeli and Jewish targets abroad, Tehran does not typically resort to environmental terrorism. An oil spill is hard to control and could easily have hit the shores of Tehran’s allies - Hamas in Gaza and Hezbollah in Lebanon. In fact, some of the oil spill did reach part of the Lebanese coast.

Gamliel called on the defense establishment to do a check right now.

“To say that this isn’t terror is simply inappropriate,” she stated this morning.

While it is important to identify the culprit for the massive oil spill, Israeli authorities still face the monumental task of cleaning up the fragile coast and establishing an effective preparedness plan to prevent similar disasters in the future.

Experts have declared the spill as one of the worst environmental disasters in Israeli history, damaging approximately 80% of Israel’s coast and causing significant damage to the coastline, beaches and maritime life. Environmental experts warn that it could take years of cleanup to fully rehabilitate Israel’s beaches.

The situation was exacerbated by Israel’s lack of preparedness and chronically underfunded Ministry of Environmental Protection. In 2008, an Israeli cabinet under former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert decided to allocate funds for staff and equipment to prevent oil contamination at sea. The budget was never implemented due to opposition from the Finance Ministry, leaving Israel no better prepared in 2021 than in 2008.

After further examination, Adam Teva V’Din, an environmental advocacy organization, expressed fears that Israeli beaches may never be 100% clean again.

The All Israel News Staff is a team of journalists in Israel.

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