Arava oil spill
Arava oil spillNature and Parks Authority

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu on Tuesday visited the site of what many are calling the worst environmental tragedy in Israeli history – the breach in the Eilat-Ashkelon pipeline, which was caused last week by an explosion of the high-pressure pipe during work to build Israel's new international airport outside Eilat.

Accompanying Netanyahu was Environmental Protection Ministry Acting Director General Elad Amichai, Israel Nature and Parks Authority Director General Shaul Goldstein, Eilat-Ashkelon Pipeline Co., Ltd. Deputy Director General for Operations Itzik Levy, Hevel Eilot Regional Council Chairman Udi Gat and Environmental Protection Ministry Southern District Director Guy Samet.

Crews have been working around the clock since last Wednesday to remove the oil, which has threatened to badly damage nearby nature reserves. Officials expressed grave concern that Tuesday's rainy weather would speed up the flow of the oil towards the Gulf of Eilat, where fragile coral reefs would be badly damaged. However, officials said that they had been able to clean up much of the oil and were able to prevent it from flowing towards Eilat or nature reserves in the region.

Officials of the Environmental Protection Ministry said that major efforts were being made – in conjunction with the Nature and Parks Authority, the Fire and Rescue Service, the Israel Police and Eilat and Aravah Drainage Authority – to repair the existing damage and remove contaminated soil.

Speaking at the site, Netanyahu said that “Our mission is to protect the health of the public, work to reduce the risk that the contamination will reach Eilat, and rehabilitate the nature reserve. In recent days we have been dealing with various matters but as soon as we knew about the oil leak, I have been monitoring events. I appointed Prime Minister's Office Director General Harel Locker to coordinate all action on the issue, along with the relevant agencies, and I came here at the first opportunity. I appointed Deputy Minister Ofir Akunis to be responsible for the Environmental Protection Ministry.

We just had a focused briefing on the actions being taken first of all to reassure the public and protect public health and, of course, protect the environment. A series of actions are being taken here and will apparently continue for some time. We will allocate the necessary resources to protect the environment, this precious jewel in our country.”

Akunis added that he “intends to come here and be here until we know for complete certainty that two main things have been blocked: First of all, the health danger to local residents and those who live further south, and, of course, everything related to environmental matters. I intend to be here until we know for sure that all the dangers have passed and we will sit very soon and consider a series of recommendations that will be submitted to the Cabinet so that such events do not recur – this is very important; they must not recur – and in order to do whatever is necessary in the wake of this leak."