News Digest — 3/5/21

Israel Tarred Its Own Coastline?  Lebanon Blames Israel For Oil Spill

Three weeks after a massive oil spill which Israeli environmental experts called the worst ecological disaster to befall the Jewish state in decades, Lebanon is gearing up to file a UN complaint blaming Israel for the incident.

Huge amounts of tar and dead sea animals, including turtles and a baby fin whale, washed up on Israel’s shores in mid-February.

The pollution eventually reached Lebanon’s southern beaches, and the Levantine state was quick to place the blame squarely on Israel.

According to a report from the Al Markazia news agency on Thursday (4th), the Lebanese Parliament’s Environment Committee prodded the government to “file an “urgent complaint” against Israel to the UN, blaming the Jewish state for “environmental aggression.”

On Tuesday (2nd), Lebanon’s Foreign Ministry sent a letter asking the UN for assistance in investigating the cause of the spill.

In late February, Lebanese Prime Minister Hassan Diab announced that “a ship of the Israeli enemy” was to blame for the spill.  Diab did not cite any evidence or elaborate on how Israel was responsible for the disaster, which tarred more than 100 miles of its coastline.

Israel’s Environmental Minister Gila Gamliel said on Wednesday (3rd) that the spill was caused by a Libyan ship passing through the Mediterranean Sea some 12 miles off the Israeli coast. 

Calling the spill an act of “environmental terrorism” she suggested that based on circumstantial evidence, Iran was behind the incident.

“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 tweeted.



Pictures: Ship Accused Of Israeli Oil Spill Shown Anchored Off Iran Coast 

Israel has named Libyan-owned Emerald as the ship that caused a huge oil spill that severely damaged its coastline and its environment, in what it described as an act of “eco-terrorism.”

The Emerald was seen anchored off Iran’s Kharg Island on January 17, according to photographs released by the Environmental Protection Ministry on Thursday (4th). 

The tar from the spillage reached Israel’s shores on February 17, causing immense damage.

The Emerald took on an estimated 112,000 tons of crude oil in Iran before encircling the gulf and entering Egyptian waters and passing through the Suez Canal into the Mediterranean.

One of the photos released on Thursday (4th) shows the ship in Israel’s waters near Haifa, and two others show the oil slick in the Mediterranean moving closer to Israel’s shores.

Another shows the tanker in rendezvous with another ship west of Syria that had its transmitter turned off.  The Emerald’s displacement was identified as reducing from 14.3 meters under the water line to 8.5 meters, which indicated that it unloaded its consignment to the other ship while at sea.

A further photo shows the Emerald unloading 750,000 barrels of Iranian oil to a tanker called Lotus, a Syrian ship flying an Iranian flag.

The photographs were made public by, an online service that tracks and reports shipments and storage of crude oil, and were passed on to the Environmental Protection Ministry.

The Emerald remained within dozens of kilometers of Israel’s shores, inside Israeli waters for nearly a whole day, spilling large amounts of oil on Feb.1-2 with its automatic identification system (AIS) turned off.

It then continued on to Syria, where it turned on its transmitter, and returned to Iran again turning off its AIS as it passed by Israel.  The ship is currently in Iran.



Iran Hopes Saudis, UAE And Bahrain ‘Not Foolish Enough’ To Strike Defense Pact With Israel

Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates and Bahrain are “unlikely foolish enough” to enter a defense pact with Israel, Iran’s former Defense Minister and Expediency Council member Brig. Gen. Ahmed Wahidi told Russian outlet RT channel on Wednesday (3rd).

The statement followed a Reuters report that cited Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz as saying Israel “intends to develop a special security arrangement” with Gulf Arab allies.  Wahidi was the first Iranian official to comment on it.

Wahidi, who is the head of Iran’s Supreme National Defense University, said that the “Zionist entity” was facing multiple crises, including a political one, which forced it to hold four elections in two years.

This vulnerability, he claimed, was what prompted Israel to seek a defense agreement with the Gulf neighbors, who “do not have the capabilities and capacity to confront Iran.”

He threatened that “strong blows” will follow if the Gulf states decide to team up with Israel in confronting Iran and accused them of betraying the Palestinian cause.

Iran’s nuclear aspirations and support for regional terrorist groups have long been a point of contention with the three Arab states, two of which – the UAE and Bahrain – recently moved to establish formal ties with Israel.



South American Immigrants Arrive In Israel

Forty days after they were scheduled to fly, 137 South American immigrants finally landed in Israel.

A group of 137 immigrants from Brazil and Argentina landed in Israel on Monday (1st) after 40 days of limbo brought about by Israel’s closure of its main international airport last month and Europe’s restriction on Latin Americans making connections through its airports.

Part of the group was slated to fly out of Sao Paulo in January, but those plans were shelved after Israel shut down all but emergency and cargo flights to Ben Gurion Airport on Jan. 24.  The airport partially opened two weeks later, but entries were limited and further complicated by the inability to make connecting flights through Europe.  Currently there are no scheduled direct flights between Brazil and Israel.

“There were moments when I thought we’d give up.  It was a continuous exercise of patience, persistence and wishing,” said Geni Gelman, who had been staying with her 89-year-old mother at a hotel at the Rio airport since Jan. 23.

Most of the immigrants had resigned from their jobs, given up their homes and withdrawn their children from schools in advance of the scheduled Jan. 25 flight.  Some passengers from remote cities in Brazil had flown to Sao Paulo and were staying at hotels in anticipation of their flight to Israel.

The logjam was broken thanks to a partnership between the Jewish Agency and the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews, a charity that helps facilitate immigration to Israel.  The organizations teamed up to charter a plane and secure authorizations enabling the immigrants to be included among the 200 arrivals allowed into Israel each day.

Since 2016, an average of 650 individuals have immigrated to Israel from Brazil each year.  The tough economic climate in Brazil, combined with urban violence and political corruption, have been driving factors for Brazilians seeking an improved quality of life in Israel.

“The flight was sublime, one of the most emotional things of my life,” said Ricardo Balassiano, who arrived in Israel with his wife, two children and his wife’s parents. “The general feeling is that it was well worth it after all.” 



South Africa’s Top Judge Ordered To Apologize For Pro-Israel Remarks

South Africa’s chief justice was Thursday (4th) ordered to apologize and retract comments he made last year seen as pledging support for Israel in a country that is pro-Palestine.

Mogoeng Mogoeng, who is a devout Christian sparked an outcry in June last year declaring his love for Israel.

He said South Africa was depriving itself “a wonderful opportunity of being a game-changer in the Israeli-Palestinian situation.”

South Africa openly supports the Palestinian cause and in 2019 it downgraded its embassy in Tel Aviv.

The country’s Judicial Conduct Committee which probed the judge’s comments following a complaint, found the remarks “offending” and “particularly aggravating.”

“It is important that…. Those utterances must be unreservedly retracted and withdrawn to return and maintain the public image of the judiciary to its rightful place,” the committee said in its ruling.

A local pro-Palestinian rights group, #Africa4Palestine, also had presented a formal complaint over the judge’s pro-Israel speech during a webinar, and asked for his retraction of all offensive statements.