Defense Minister Benny Gantz on Friday said that there was currently no evidence to conclude that the oil spill off Israel’s coast that polluted most of the country’s beaches was a deliberate act of “environmental terrorism.”
Speaking to supporters of his Blue and White party, Gantz was asked about Environmental Protection Minister Gila Gamliel’s assertion that Iran deliberately caused the spill of Israel’s coast.
“I can’t completely rule out that it was deliberate, but at this stage, we can’t determine that it was done on purpose,” Gantz said.
Israeli TV reported Thursday that Israel’s security establishment is investigating the alleged Iranian link to the oil spill.
The network said the Environmental Protection Ministry had handed over its report on the matter to security bodies, which were reviewing its findings. Sources in the defense establishment, however, were quoted as saying there was no indication the spill was deliberate.
The report added that Israel’s intelligence apparatus has now also been recruited to look further into the claim of Iranian sabotage.
A Libyan-owned ship, the Emerald, was smuggling crude oil from Iran to Syria at the time of the spill, the Environmental Protection Ministry said in a statement Thursday, citing satellite images by the TankerTrackers monitoring group. The ship has since returned to Iran and is currently anchored there.
In an interview with Channel 12 on Thursday evening, Gamliel again insisted, without providing proof, that the spill constituted an Iranian terror attack on Israel.
“There are people who do not look at the risks properly,” she said when challenged on her claim, pointing the finger at Opposition Leader Yair Lapid and saying that “only Netanyahu knows how to deal with the Iranian threat properly.”
The environmental group Greenpeace blasted Gamliel for her claims, saying the assertion of a terror attack “is outrageous and factually baseless at this stage.”
The group said that in making the claim, the minister “is minimizing the well-known and widespread phenomenon of marine pollution by ship oil spills. The minister’s conduct on the matter smells of electioneering and an attempt to score political points over an ecological disaster.”
On Wednesday, Gamliel initially said she did not believe the spill was deliberate. But at a press conference later that evening she pinned responsibility on Iran.
“We have discovered that this wasn’t merely environmental criminality, but rather environmental terror,” she said. “Now we have found that Iran doesn’t only carry out terror via nuclear weapons or via attempts to establish a presence on our borders. Iran carries out terrorism by damaging the environment.”
The minister’s allegation of Iran’s involvement was immediately disputed by senior security officials, however, with Channel 13 news quickly reporting that Israel’s defense establishment “does not share this assessment.” The network said it was “striking” that neither the Mossad intelligence agency nor other defense bodies were involved in formulating Gamliel’s conclusion.
Speaking to Army Radio on Thursday morning, Gamliel pushed back at suggestions that the spill was an accident, saying, “To say that this isn’t terror is simply inappropriate.”
She went on to say there had been a “failure” by security services in monitoring Iranian crude oil smuggled to beat international sanctions imposed on Syria due to its human rights record.
Asked directly if the spill was deliberate or an accident she said, “If they had fired a missile at an Israeli ship would anyone ask if it was a mistake or deliberate? In my view, it was a deliberate act of terror.”
On Thursday afternoon, the Environmental Protection Ministry’s director-general, David Yahalomi, said the spill was a form of terrorism, even if not deliberate.
“It doesn’t matter if it was deliberate or not,” Yahalomi told the Kan public broadcaster. “An enemy state that transfers 45 million oil barrels illegally and improperly through Israel’s economic waters is harmful.”
He said the potential harm under such circumstances “is a ticking bomb, and so it is correct to call it environmental terrorism.”
He estimated that about 1,000 tons of tar have hit Israel’s Mediterranean coast since last month’s spill, and said the impact could be 100 times worse, causing irreversible damage, if an entire tanker shed its oil off Israel’s coast.