The cabinet on Sunday established an inter-ministerial committee to consider the practicality of expanding the country not through annexing the West Bank, but rather through building artificial islands off the coast.

“Our state is small and crowded,” Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu told the cabinet. “Therefore, the idea of artificial islands has spatial, economic and security logic for us. It is also of value regarding environmental protection. There is no doubt that this entails many opportunities for the State of Israel.”

The idea of building artificial islands to house major infrastructure projects, such as power plants, desalination plants, recycling stations, wind energy farms, an airport or a military testing facility, has been bandied about for years. But now a steering committee has been established to conduct thorough evaluations of both the feasibility and environmental impacts of the idea.

After conducting evaluations, the committee must present its recommendations to the prime minister within a year.

“The construction of artificial islands can solve the land shortage problem for the establishment of large infrastructural facilities,” said Science and Technology Minister Daniel Hershkowitz, who initially proposed the idea.

“The solution of artificial islands provides an answer for the establishment of large infrastructural facilities that otherwise would be erected on a beach and take up valuable space and thereby harm the environment. We will examine experience accumulated in various countries and thusly new and original technologies.”

The committee, to be chaired by Science and Technology Ministry Director-General Menachem Greenblum, will include representatives from the Prime Minister's Office, the security establishment, as well as from the national infrastructures, finance, environmental protection, interior and transportation ministries. In addition to governmental participants, the committee will also include representatives from environmental organizations, as well as hydrologists and other field experts, according to the ministry.

The committee will be examining a number of different engineering options for such islands, such as creating a floating island versus an island on stilts, and will generate an environmental impact assessment for each solution. To accomplish its tasks, the committee has a budget of NIS 3 million, and the total construction cost of a 200-hectare island is estimated to be approximately $1.5 billion, the ministry said.

While new to Israel, the plan to build in the sea is not completely revolutionary, as other such projects do exist elsewhere in the world. For instance, Japan has built floating airports, including Kansai International Airport in Osaka Bay, built on a four-kilometer long artificial island linked to the mainland by a three-kilometer bridge.

Last year, the security cabinet discussed a plan to build a 2-kilometer- by-4-kilometer artificial island 4.5 kilometers off the coast of Gaza, where the territory’s exports and imports would be processed. This island would include a port and an airport. Israel has adamantly opposed opening a harbor or airport in Gaza because of security concerns.

In response to the government’s interest in artificial islands, Adam Teva V'Din (Israel Union for Environmental Defense) warned that these would not be islands with beautiful palm trees and sunny shores. Rather, they would contain industrial platforms that block ocean waves and create a nuisance to the landscape, meanwhile causing permanent damage to the Israeli coast. Adam Teva V'Din representatives had been part of the initial government team that had examined the issue of artificial islands several years ago, the organization said.

“For building an island like the intended one in Israel, there is no precedent in the world,” said Yael Dori, head of planning at Adam Teva V'Din.

“The chief source of uncertainty about the planned island is establishing it against the coast of Israel, an operation that would be a first case in the world known to us, of planning to build an artificial island in an open and stormy sea.”

Most artificial islands around the world, particularly those in Japan, serve for aviation and other purposes but are strategically placed within bay areas that are protected from outside environments, Dori explained. Both in Japan and in Holland, centers of expertise on artificial islands, the governments has not allowed islands to be built on the open seas, according to Dori.

That being said, Adam Teva V'Din has no problem with the issue being examined again, as long a real, thorough examination of all the environmental implications of such a plan occurs, a spokeswoman from organization said. The government’s previous survey on the idea failed to conduct a comprehensive investigation of such consequences.

“The dangers ambushing the marine environment of Israel, like artificial islands and like gas and oil drilling in ocean environments, require the establishment of a national authority for sea management,” said Adam Teva V'Din executive director, Amit Bracha, prior to the cabinet vote on Sunday.

Such an authority, in Bracha's eyes, “would examine, supervise and make decisions regarding the existence of marine infrastructure, and the only interests that would guide it would be the environmental and public interests.”

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