Both the Mossad and the IDF were blindsided by Environmental Protection Minister Gila Gamliel's accusation that Iran was behind the recent environmental disaster and oil spill that has hit Israel's shores.
Defense sources said they could not confirm the veracity of Gamliel’s claims and said that neither the IDF nor the Mossad had been part of the investigation upon which the minister based her allegations. Officials said they were frustrated by the lack of coordination within the government.
On Wednesday night, Gamliel said that Iran intentionally polluted the Mediterranean Sea and Israel’s shores in an act of ecological terrorism, causing the greatest environmental disaster in Israel’s history.
“This pollution has people who are responsible for it and have to pay the price. Our nature is damaged, our animals are harmed, thanks to merciless environmental criminals,” Gamliel said.
It was unclear what Israeli channels Gamliel went through to obtain her information, verify it and decide to announce it without first discussing the issue with the IDF, the Navy and the Mossad – traditionally the organizations responsible for the Iran file.
Her accusation raised a number of questions, since even the slightest miscalculation could have led any intentional oil spill to hit Hamas in Gaza or Hezbollah in Lebanon.
On the other hand, Iran has failed at a number of recent attempts to retaliate against Israel for high-profile operations which it attributes to Jerusalem, so this could have led the Islamic Republic to attempt a high-risk and more out-of-the-box method of attack.
Gamliel pushed back on Thursday against the widely-reported doubts, saying: "Crude oil in the sea is a waepon that acts against the environment and public health, against animals and against our shores.
"We must not underestimate the matter; the ship's behavior was deliberate," she added. "There is a direct connection to Iran, not a vague connection."
Gamliel called for an emergency meeting of government bodies, including security bodies, to further examine "the threat to Israel's economic waters, which are not just environmental."
The Environmental Protection Ministry released satellite photos from TankerTrackers.com, which tracks shipments and storage of crude oil, of the ship, including at points when its AIS was off.
One photo shows the Emerald in Israel's economic waters, near Haifa, and two others show the oil stain in the Mediterranean moving closer to Israel.
Another shows the emerald engaging with a ship that has its transmitter off, West of Syria, and its depth lessening from 14.3 meters under the sea to 8.5 meters, which likely indicates that it unloaded tanks of oil to the other ship, while at sea.
A further photo directly shows the Emerald unloading 750,000 barrels of Iranian oil to a tanker called Lotus, a Syrian ship flying an Iranian flag.
Additional environmental ministry and former navy officials were also quoted in the media backing her claims as credible, but many also admitted that the case was circumstantial – especially about whether the likely Iranian ship acted intentionally in leaking the oil – as opposed to a slam dunk.