Israel's energy minister said on Tuesday a deal with partners from the United Arab Emirates to transport oil from the Gulf to Europe via Israel should be canceled as it was too much of an environmental risk.
Opposition from Energy Minister Karine Elharrar raises doubts about whether the Israeli government will approve the deal, one of the biggest to emerge from the normalization of ties between Israel and the United Arab Emirates last year.
The deal was signed between Israel's state-owned Europe-Asia Pipeline Company (EAPC) and MED-RED Land Bridge, a company with Emirati and Israeli owners.
The idea was for oil to be unloaded from tankers in the Red Sea port of Eilat and then transferred across Israel in an existing pipeline to the Mediterranean coast.
Israeli officials have said they expect sea traffic to jump sharply with the new arrangement, from a rate of six tankers a year to more than 50 tankers a year docking in Eilat in close proximity to a coral reef.
The companies involved say this land bridge is the shortest, most efficient and cost-effective route to transport oil from the Gulf to the West. But environmental groups, who have petitioned Israel's Supreme Court to freeze the deal, say the influx of tankers and crude oil is a huge ecological risk.
"I am calling to cancel the EAPC agreement. It poses many risks to the Gulf of Eilat, to residents, and it does not benefit Israel's energy market," Elharrar said in a statement.
She said UAE officials told her the deal should be viewed as an agreement between private companies and that canceling it "is not expected to impact ties between the countries."
UAE Energy Minister Suhail al-Mazrouei declined to comment, saying it was an issue to be handled by the companies.
"I'm not delegated to talk about companies and deals and this country or that country," Mazrouei told reporters on the sidelines of an oil and gas conference in Abu Dhabi.
EAPC has said the new business is part of its routine operations and it met the strictest international standards. It also said the deal had geopolitical benefits.