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Cablegate: Ezra Outlines Israel's Environmental Challenges

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DE RUEHTV #0613/01 0741511
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
R 141511Z MAR 08
FM AMEMBASSY TEL AVIV
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 5868
INFO RUEHJM/AMCONSUL JERUSALEM 9330
RUEHAM/AMEMBASSY AMMAN 3799
RUEHRC/USDA FAS WASHDC

UNCLAS TEL AVIV 000613

SIPDIS

STATE PLEASE PASS TO EPA

SIPDIS

STATE FOR OES/ENV AND NEA/AIA
USDA FOR FAS/ICD/RSED
AMMAN FOR ESTH - BHALLA

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: SENV ENRG TBIO IS
SUBJECT: EZRA OUTLINES ISRAEL'S ENVIRONMENTAL CHALLENGES

SENSITIVE BUT UNCLASSIFIED - NOT FOR INTERNET DISTRIBUTION

Ref: (A) Tel Aviv 195 (B)07 Tel Aviv 3583

1. (SBU) SUMMARY. In a speech on February 26, Israel's Minister of
Environmental Protection (MEP) outlined the most pressing
environmental concerns facing Israel today. He touched on both the
well-known issues, such as the Ramat Hovav toxic waste dump site, as
well as on longer-term problems such as the pollution of aquifers
from illegal construction dumping. The Minister claimed greater
enforcement of environmental laws is the solution; the skeptical
audience was waiting to see what, if any, action would be taken.
End Summary.

Pollution Pervades
------------------
2. (SBU) Minister of Environmental Protection Gideon Ezra, speaking
at an Australian-Israeli Chamber of Commerce meeting in February,
offered a frank assessment of Israel's major environmental
challenges. He started with Ramat Hovav, Israel's major toxic waste
site (ref A). Although it is distant from populated areas, he
acknowledged that concerns remain regarding the air, land, and water
pollution it generates.

3. (SBU) Addressing air pollution, Ezra shared research showing a
sharp drop in pollution during the Yom Kippur holiday, when by
tradition, all of Israel stops driving for a 24-hour period. This
underscored the link between vehicular pollution and Israel's
environment. He reinforced the need to continue research into
alternative fuels, and said that licensing of cars in Israel will
become stricter due to laws that have been passed recently in order
to prevent pollution.

4. (SBU) Haifa Bay refineries and the pollution in the bay also
received the Minister's attention. He noted recent efforts by the
Ministry to decrease production and use of carcinogenic substances
in the bay area, home to one of Israel's industrial centers. The
Israel Oceanographic and Limnological Research Institute (IOLR) that
monitors coastal waters on behalf of the MEP, however, found no
significant change in the quality of coastal waters between 2005 and
2006, although it noted some minor reduction in toxic metal
pollution during that period. However, the IOLR noted that the
concentration of fertilizers and of urban and industrial wastes in
most of Israel's coastal streams and rivers is significantly greater
than that found in estuaries in other parts of the world. (Note:
The IOLR stated recently in a separate report that these higher
concentrations are the result of high sewage flow and a low level of
natural water flow, and that such pollution could cause cancer and
nervous system damage, and hinder child development. End Note)

5. (SBU) The Kishon River, which flows into Haifa Bay, continues to
be the most polluted in the country, Minister Ezra acknowledged.
While its level of pollution has decreased somewhat, the bottom of
the river still contains large quantities of toxic metals. Other
rivers such as the Yarkon, Naaman, and Sorek rivers that drain into
the Mediterranean also have high levels of pollution from
fertilizers and metals. (Post reported an alternative list of
most-polluted rivers ref B.)

Recycling and Reclamation
-------------------------
6. (SBU) The minister raised the topic of recycling, stating that
not enough was being done to separate cans, bottles, plastic, and
paper. A recent MEP campaign to encourage recycling of batteries
deserved favorable mention. Recycling of tires too was a concern
for the Minister, and he observed that they must be cut up before
being buried, otherwise they continually resurface. (Note: ESTOff
inquired at the MEP why more glass recycling was not being done, and
the response was that the distance such heavy recyclables had to be
transported to Israel's sole glass recycling plant in the South of
the country made it economically not feasible.)

7. (SBU) Ezra reiterated that the improper disposal of construction,
demolition, and excavation debris (so-called C, D, and E waste) is
one of Israel's most severe environmental problems. The country has
experienced a construction boom over the past five years, but only a
small fraction of the waste this has generated is disposed of in
regulated waste sites. At these regulated sites, local authorities
are responsible for the treatment of C, D, and E waste in the same
way that they are responsible for treating municipal solid waste.
The majority of C, D and E waste ends up dumped illegally in open
areas, along roads, and in the West Bank. The environmental and
health impacts of illegal disposal and improper treatment of this
waste are especially severe, Ezra acknowledged. These include
damage to surface and groundwater sources, soil pollution, reduction
in land value, aesthetic nuisances, fires and air pollution, damage
to open spaces, proliferation of pests and damage to the quality of
life of residents and to the future development potential of local
authorities. The officer responsible for C, D, and E waste at the
MEP, Uri Tal, separately has said most of the degradation (some 31
sites) occurs in areas overlying the coastal and mountain aquifers,
where irreversible damage of the aquifers is possible. For example,
this is a problem for municipal authorities in 17 different
localities in the Kinneret Drainage Basin, threatening damage to the
Sea of Galilee, Israel's only freshwater lake.

8. (SBU) Minister Ezra reinforced his Ministry's position favoring
more use of renewable energy in order to preserve the environment
for future generations. The solar energy generating plants planned
for the Negev will be free of greenhouse gas emissions, for example.
Alternative energy sources still have an environmental impact, he
observed, noting that in order to generate 100 megawatts the solar
plants need 4000 dunam (16,000 acres) of space, and that in order to
capitalize on wind energy, a significant part of Israel's limited
coastline would need to be used. His implied message: alternative
energies have their own costs.

Next Steps
-----------
9. (SBU) During the Q&A session, there was clear agreement in the
audience that there needs to be stronger environmental law
enforcement. One person in the audience even suggested the use of
the civil police and army if necessary, but the Minister ruled that
out. Another attendee inquired about alternatives to landfill for
disposal of asbestos waste. Some audience members tried to focus
Ezra's attention on their concerns regarding an ongoing asbestos
removal project in Nahariya.

10. (SBU) Comment: The frank discussion by the Minister reflected
more openness and readiness to engage on the thorny issues than had
previously been the case. Future enforcement activity, however,
will be the true test of the ministry's commitment to redress years
of ignoring the pollution problem in the name of economic growth and
national security.

JONES

4

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