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Gantz: Israel did not cause the oil spill that polluted its beaches

Defense minister dismisses speculation, in wake of WSJ report on IDF targeting Iranian tankers, that Israel inadvertently hit ship that spilled oil off Mediterranean coast

Pieces of tar from an oil spill in the Mediterranean Sea wash up on a beach in the Gdor Nature Reserve near Michmoret, Israel, Monday, March 1, 2021. The cleanup from the disastrous oil spill that has blackened most of the country's shoreline is expected to take months. (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit)
Pieces of tar from an oil spill in the Mediterranean Sea wash up on a beach in the Gdor Nature Reserve near Michmoret, Israel, Monday, March 1, 2021. The cleanup from the disastrous oil spill that has blackened most of the country's shoreline is expected to take months. (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit)

Speculation that Israel may have inadvertently caused the oil spill that hit its Mediterranean coast last month, via an attack on an Iranian tanker that went awry, is unfounded, Defense Minister Benny Gantz said Saturday night.

“I can tell you emphatically that Israel is not responsible for the oil spill that caused the considerable damage along the coast,” Gantz told Amos Yadlin, the former head of IDF Military Intelligence and the current head of Tel Aviv University’s Institute for National Security Studies (INSS), in a conversation screened over Zoom.

The speculation that Israel might have unwittingly caused the spill followed a Wall Street Journal report on Thursday which claimed Israel has hit at least 12 ships carrying sanction-busting Iranian oil and/or arms to Syria in the Red Sea and other areas.

That report prompted social media speculation over whether Israel may itself have damaged the tanker that later spilled a reported 1,000 tons of oil that washed up on Israeli beaches.

Yadlin echoed Gantz’s response. “I can confirm this on the basis of the research that we have done at the Institute: Israel had nothing to do with the incident,” Yadlin said.

Defense Minister Benny Gantz (right) and Amos Yadlin in conversation, March 13, 2021 (Facebook screenshot)

A Haaretz report Saturday night also cited information from Israel’s security establishment dismissing the notion. “There was no attempt to target an Iranian vessel that went awry,” Haaretz reported, “and therefore Israel is not responsible, not even inadvertently, for the pollution of its beaches.”

The Haaretz report also said Israel’s security establishment had found no evidence to support Environmental Protection Minister Gila Gamliel’s allegation that Iran deliberately caused the spill in an act of “environmental terrorism.”

Illustrative: An Iranian Revolutionary Guard speedboat moves in the Persian Gulf while an oil tanker is seen in background, July 2, 2012. (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi, File)

“Israel’s security establishment has no knowledge of a deliberate Iranian attempt to pollute Israel’s beaches by spilling oil,” the report said.

It said the spill was likely from a tanker carrying Iranian oil in breach of sanctions. Gamliel named the vessel as the Libyan-owned Emerald. Her ministry said it was smuggling crude oil from Iran to Syria under a Panamanian flag.

On Friday, an Iranian investigator said Israel was the likely suspect behind an attack Wednesday in the Mediterranean that damaged an Iranian cargo ship. The ship was slightly damaged by an explosive object but no one on board was hurt, Ali Ghiasi, a spokesman for state-run shipping company IRISL told semi-official Nournews on Friday.

Thursday’s Wall Street Journal report said that Israel has targeted at least 12 ships bound for Syria, most of them transporting Iranian oil, with mines and other weapons. The attacks did not sink the tankers, but forced at least two of the vessels to return to port in Iran, the report said. Israel refused to comment.

The Helios Ray, which was sailing from Saudi Arabia to Singapore, arrives at Dubai port after being hit in the Gulf of Oman, February 27, 2021 (MarineTraffic.com screenshot)

Israel has said Iran was behind a blast on an Israeli-owned ship in the Gulf of Oman last month; Iran denies the charge.

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