(AFP) – JERUSALEM (AFP) – On Sunday, Israel’s environmental protection ministry said that it will postpone the execution of a proposed oil transport agreement with the United Arab Emirates, thereby halting a project that has enraged environmentalists.

Following the establishment of diplomatic links between the UAE and Israel last year, Gulf oil would be transported by tanker to the Red Sea port of Eilat, then transported by pipeline across continental Israel to the Mediterranean port of Ashkelon, from whence it would be exported to Europe.

The oil contract between Israel’s state-owned Europe-Asia Pipeline Enterprise (EAPC) and MED-RED Land Bridge Ltd, an Israeli-Emirati company, has yet to begin. However, environmentalists have raised concerns about possible damage to northern Red Sea corals off the coast of Eilat.

With tens of millions of tonnes of petroleum projected to pass through Israel each year, Israeli environmental groups opposed the proposal in court, fearing the possibility of a catastrophic leak or spill.

Last Monday, EAPC filed its answer in court, along with a risk assessment, claiming that the danger from increased oil flow was negligible.

However, Israel’s environmental protection ministry stated on Sunday that the risk assessment “did not satisfy the requirements” set by the government and so was invalid.

In a letter to EAPC, the ministry said it would “wait the examination of your plans to enhance business in the Eilat port until the government has a discussion and a decision” on the proposal.

Tamar Zandberg, the freshly sworn-in Environmental Protection Minister from the left-wing Meretz party, who has been a vocal opponent of the EAPC-Emirati agreement, took the decision to halt the deal’s execution.

A spokesperson for Prime Minister Naftali Bennett’s administration, which was sworn in last month with an ideologically diverse coalition, said his office has “asked the court for an extension of time in order to reply to the lawsuit brought by the environmental organisations.”

EAPC’s spokesperson declined to respond.

Activists claim the purchase got past severe regulatory inspection since EAPC is a state-owned company working in the highly regulated energy industry.