Israeli ammonia tank set to close following Hezbollah threat

Politicians and environmentalists alike have been fighting for the removal of the facility from the Haifa Bay area for years.

February 8, 2017 19:12
2 minute read.
Haifa Bay’s 12,000-ton ammonia tank

Haifa Bay’s 12,000-ton ammonia tank. (photo credit: MAX YELINSON/ MAARIV)

Judge Sigalit Gatz-Ofir of the Haifa Local Affairs Court on Wednesday issued a closure order for the city’s controversial ammonia tank, pending a discussion about the facility on Thursday morning.

The order occurred in response to the Haifa Municipality’s appeal to the court requesting the container’s closure, after a report published last week indicated that destruction of the tank could kill thousands in the region. Politicians and environmentalists alike have been fighting for the removal of the facility from the Haifa Bay area for years.

A team of researchers led by Prof. Ehud Keinan of the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology concluded that an enemy strike on the 12,000-ton facility and ammonia delivery vessels could bring catastrophe to the region. While an attack on the container could lead to the deaths of thousands of residents, an attack on ships delivering the ammonia to the region could kill hundreds of thousands – “numbers that were inconceivable in any apocalyptic scenario ever described by the security establishment in the State of Israel,” according to the report.

The tank was slated to be moved to a less-populated location, Mishor Rotem in the Negev Desert, but the Environmental Protection Ministry announced in November that the tendering process for the transfer had failed. Long seen as a security risk to the region, the ammonia container received international attention when Hezbollah secretary-general Hassan Nasrallah threatened to attack it last February.

“To bring down the Twin Towers in New York, the terrorists did not need dozens of tons of explosives; rather, they realized the destructive potential of a giant passenger plane, full of fuel, traveling at high speeds,” the report said. “The Hezbollah secretary-general was absolutely right about the inherent destructive potential of the container, and more importantly, of the ammonia ship.”

Ammonia is a highly toxic gas, to which an exposure of just a 0.5% concentration can cause death within five-to-10 minutes, the report explained. Ordinary homes cannot be sealed from ammonia completely, and after the gas is leaked into a room, residents can only survive for a few hours.

Knesset Haifa Bay Caucus chairwoman MK Yael Cohen Paran (Zionist Union) praised the court decision to issue an order to close the ammonia plant and said that she wishes that the temporary status would become permanent.

Some “800,000 people are under a daily threat in the bay, it is about time for change,” she said.

MK Dov Henin (Joint List) echoed these comments and said that when the government abandons the life of the people of Haifa, it is good that the court steps in.

“The ammonia tanks should be closed for good,” he added. “Only then we will find out that there are better alternatives to this dangerous tank.”

MK Ksenia Svetlova (Zionist Union) said that the threat that is posed by the ammonia plant is as bad as a nuclear threat.

“Letting the plant to continue operating is irresponsible,” she said. “The Israeli government is putting a million citizens under threat. I hope that the right thing will be done and this plant – that is more dangerous from the rockets of Hezbollah and Hamas – will be closed for good.”

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