A massive oil spill that has impacted most of Israel’s coastline — the worst ecological disaster in the country in decades — was an act of environmental-terrorism initiated by Iran, an Israeli official said Wednesday.
Environmental Protection Minister Gila Gamliel said a “pirate ship” that sailed from Iran caused the oil spill that has polluted most of Israel’s beaches — a disaster that could take months to years to clean up.
“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 wrote on Twitter. “Our fight against pollution and harming the environment is a cross-border fight.”
Gamliel suggested the spill was orchestrated by Iran. She said the ship, called Emerald, is owned by a Libyan firm, and sailed from Iran under a Panamanian flag.
“We will sue for compensation in the name of all the citizens of Israel for damage to health, nature, flora and fauna,” she said at a press conference.
A massive cleanup is underway. Many beaches have been closed. Selling fish from the Mediterranean has been temporarily banned.
Government opinion seems to be divided on who is to blame. Officials in Israel’s defense establishment do “not share this assessment” that Iran was to blame. An unnamed senior security official said that Iran does not appear to be directly involved.
And, Rani Amir, the head of the naval unit in the EPA, wouldn’t go so far as to conclusively say the incident was an act of terror.
“We think the leak that affected us was not during the transfer of oil from Emerald to smaller ships but either a deliberate leak — that is to say terror — or an accident,” Amir said at Gamliel’s press conference.
The Environmental Protection Ministry said the Libyan-owned vessel was flying a Panamanian flag as it cruised through the Mediterranean waters near Israel. According to a statement from the ministry, the ship turned off its tracking between February 1-2, the time when the oil was leaked. And then as the ship approached Syria, it turned its tracking back on. From February 3-14, the Emerald unloaded its crude oil cargo to other ships in the area of Syria.
Israel has also accused Iran in an attack on an Israeli-owned ship in the Gulf of Oman last week, an attack that Iran denied. A mysterious explosion hit the Helios Ray, damaging it but causing no injuries.
Israel has said it will defend its citizens against any attack. In fact, Iranian targets in Syria were hit in airstrikes over the weekend in apparent Israeli retaliation.