The Emirati oil deal that has infuriated Israeli environmentalists

A polluted area caused by an oil spill is seen at the Evrona desert reserve, near the Red Sea resort city of Eilat. (Reuters)
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Updated 14 June 2021

The Emirati oil deal that has infuriated Israeli environmentalists

  • The pipeline was first set up as a joint venture between Israel and Iran in 1968 when the two countries were friendly. That partnership collapsed after the 1979 revolution that brought the ayatollahs to power

JERUSALEM: The first cargo ships from Dubai that docked last year in the Mediterranean port of Haifa were met by celebration in Israel. Flags waved. Reporters gathered. The prime minister walked the pier and gave a speech about the fruits of making peace.
There was zero fanfare, however, when oil tankers began arriving at the smaller Israeli port of Eilat on the Red Sea in an arrangement with Emirati partners. Rather than washing machines and cleaning supplies for consumers, the ships unloaded oil to be transferred through a pipeline across Israel to the Mediterranean.
The companies involved say this land bridge is the shortest, most efficient and cost-effective route to transport oil from the Gulf to the West. But the risks to the environment are far too great, say their opponents who are hoping to end the deal.
About a month after Israel normalized ties with the United Arab Emirates last September, Israel’s state-owned Europe-Asia Pipeline Company (EAPC) announced the new collaboration.
The deal was signed in Abu Dhabi with MED-RED Land Bridge, a company with Emirati and Israeli owners. In attendance was then-US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin.
EAPC’s roots are in the Arabian Gulf. It was first set up as a joint venture between Israel and Iran in 1968 when the two countries were friendly. That partnership collapsed after the 1979 revolution that brought the ayatollahs to power.
The Israeli pipeline still operates in both directions but well below capacity in recent years, energy experts say. With the UAE stepping into the role once held by Iran, EAPC hopes to increase quantities by “tens of millions of tons per year.”
The influx of ships set to dock alongside the fragile coral reefs in Eilat and the large amounts of oil to pass through Israel have outraged the country’s biggest environmental advocates.
Fresh in their minds is an offshore oil spill in February that blackened much of Israel’s Mediterranean coast with tar. And in 2014, one of EAPC’s own pipelines ruptured, spilling 5 million liters of crude oil into a desert nature reserve.
“Most of the details (of the deal) are confidential by law. We know just a little bit, but the little bit makes us very anxious,” said Noa Yayon, head of the legal department at the Society for the Protection of Nature.
Eilat’s coral reef is unique in that it has proved to be more resilient to climate change, when many reefs around the globe are dying. It is also a big tourism draw.
But its proximity to the port means that even the smallest leak from one tankers would cause big, possibly irreversible, damage, Yayon said.
“We are of course very happy with the current geopolitical status with the Arab countries in our area, but we don’t think that it has to come with the super-specific risks to our environment,” she said. “We think that we better promote business with these countries based on clean energy and not oil.”
Minister of Environmental Protection Gila Gamliel last Tuesday sent a letter to Israel’s national security adviser saying “the warning lights are already flashing” and demanded the deal be scrapped.
Too much was decided behind closed doors and remains secret, she said.
EAPC has not made public details of the deal.
“From a rate of six tankers a year, we expect an increase to more than 50 tankers a year docking in Eilat,” Gamliel wrote. “The continuation of this deal will be a tragedy for generations, whether from mishaps that may occur or in a wartime scenario.”
Gamliel is being replaced with the swearing in of the country’s new government, and her successor on Monday called the deal a mistake and said the government should oppose it.
EAPC said the new business is part of its routine operations and that it meets the strictest international standards. Plus, the broader geopolitical gains cannot be ignored.
“Israel is expected to benefit greatly from the agreement, which will strengthen the Israeli economy and its international standing, as well as ensure its energy independence and security,” the company said in a statement.
The Society for the Protection of Nature together with other groups have petitioned Israel’s Supreme Court for a temporary order to freeze the deal. Yayon said the state is due to present its official position in coming days.
The Finance Ministry, which oversees EAPC, declined to comment due to the open court case.
A representative of UAE’s National Holding, which owns Petromal, one of the owners of MED-RED Land Bridge, had no immediate comment on the issue.

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Yemen central bank injects old riyal bills worth billions into market to challenge Houthi ban

Updated 27 min 27 sec ago

Yemen central bank injects old riyal bills worth billions into market to challenge Houthi ban

  • The Houthi ban has forced travelers to Sanaa and other areas controlled by the militant group into buying old banknotes from the black market at a higher rate

ALEXANDRIA: The Central Bank of Yemen in Aden has injected billions of riyals in old large-sized 1,000 banknotes into the market to address a chronic shortage of cash.

The bank also implemented several other economic measures to control the chaotic exchange market and put an end to the fall in the Yemeni riyal.

Since late 2019, the Iran-backed Houthis have banned the use of banknotes printed by the Yemeni government in Aden, creating a severe cash crunch in areas under their control which has led to local exchange firms and banks stopping paying salaries and raising remittance charges.

The Houthi ban has forced travelers to Sanaa and other areas controlled by the militant group into buying old banknotes from the black market at a higher rate and carrying Saudi riyals or US dollars.

In a challenge to the Houthis, the central bank has put billions of riyals in old banknotes into the market and started withdrawing the newly printed 1,000 banknote. Yemenis can get old banknotes from local banks and exchange firms.

However, the Houthis warned people against using the large banknotes and published copies and serial numbers of the newly circulated cash.

In a bid to regulate the exchange market and curb the plunging value of the riyal, the central bank has tightened regulations for opening new exchange shops or firms, demanding that applicants produce a three-year feasibility study prepared by a certified accountant showing estimated budgets.

Existing exchange companies must now send their annual financial statements to the bank, use an approved software for their financial activities, apply international financial reporting standards, and audit their accounts by accountants certified by the central bank.

Some Yemeni economists, however, have cast doubt over the central bank’s ability to enact the regulations after the Yemeni riyal on Wednesday broke another historic record low against the dollar.

Local money traders told Arab News on Wednesday that the Yemeni riyal was trading at 1020 to the dollar in government-controlled areas, compared to less than 980 a month ago. When the war broke out in late 2014, the Yemeni riyal was sold at 215 to the dollar.

The Yemeni government previously relocated the central bank’s headquarters from Sanaa to Aden, floated the Yemeni riyal to bridge the gap between the official rate and the black market, closed many exchange shops, and printed billions of riyals to pay public servants. But all the measures proved ineffective on the ground as the Yemeni riyal continued to drop.

Waled Al-Attas, an assistant professor of financial and banking sciences at Hadhramout University, told Arab News: “The central bank is required to control the market and close unlicensed exchange shops in parallel with tightening control and procedures on existing exchange entities.”

He noted that the latest injection of cash into the market had boosted foreign currency speculation activities and pushed up inflation.

“The large 1,000 banknote that the central bank pumped into the market represents an additional burden and additional liquidity that will cause more inflation, higher prices, and speculation on exchange rates,” he added.

The continuing devaluation of the Yemeni riyal has pushed up food and fuel prices in government-controlled areas and triggered protests.

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Cryptocurrencies look up despite regulatory issues

Updated 43 min 6 sec ago

Cryptocurrencies look up despite regulatory issues

RIYADH, DUBAI: While regulatory issues continue to chase cryptocurrencies, their stock saw a rise on Wednesday with Bitcoin trading higher by 1.28 percent to $39,037.94 at 5 p.m. Riyadh time.

Ether, the second most traded cryptocurrency, traded at $2,609.22, up 3.56 percent, according to data from Coindesk.

The pressure on the digital currency continues, as HSBC became the latest lender to have suspended payments to cyrptocurrency exchange platform Binance in the UK.

“We have made this decision due to concerns about the possible risks to you,” the bank said in a statement, where it cited a consumer warning by the country’s financial regulator.

Regulators in Malaysia, Japan, Hong Kong, Thailand, and Germany have previously issued warnings against Binance.

HSBC earlier said it was not planning to launch a crypto trading desk or offer digital coins as an investment, describing these assets as “volatile” and lacking of transparency.

But Wells Fargo, one of the largest wealth managers in the US, has a different stance on cryptocurrency, as it recently launched crypto investment offerings to its clients.

This was confirmed to Business Insider by the company’s spokesperson, Bitcoin.com has reported.

Also in the US, NCR Corp., a global leader in ATM software applications, said it was acquiring Libertyx, an American crypto company that claims to be the US “first and largest network of bitcoin ATMs, cashiers, and kiosks.”

In Argentina, two blockchain-based digital identity projects are being developed, according to a report by Bitcoin.com.

One of the projects is aimed at improving government-citizen relationships in Misiones, and the other seeks to promote financial inclusion in the Gran Chaco region. They are being organized by Project Didi, which financed by the Inter-American Development Bank.


Saudi property market adapts to new tax

Updated 48 min 55 sec ago

Saudi property market adapts to new tax

RIYADH: The Saudi Zakat, Tax and Customs Authority registered over 543,000 transactions related to the Real Estate Transaction Tax (RETT) since its implementation in October 2020, the official Saudi Press Agency (SPA) reported.

The highest number of tax transactions was reported in Riyadh with 125,110 followed by Jeddah (55,680), Buraidah (50,462), Makkah (18,955) and Madinah (18,557).

“This gives a positive impression to the property market,” Khaled Almobid, CEO of Riyadh-based Menassat Reality Co. told Arab News.

He said many thought the new tax might contribute to a decline in the demand of property but “the market started to adapt to it,” which is a positive sign for the Kingdom’s real estate sector.

Property deals in Saudi Arabia are exempted from a 15 percent value-added tax (VAT) as the government seeks to support the real estate sector.

Instead a 5 percent tax was introduced last year to boost the economy as it was hit hard by the impact of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic and weaker oil prices.

“The buyer used to pay a value-added tax (VAT) of 15 percent, and due to the real estate conditions in the Kingdom, it was turned into a tax paid by the seller, not the buyer, called the real estate transaction tax, and it was reduced to 5 percent,” Almobid said.


Tabby raises $500 million, eyes new GCC markets

Updated 50 min 3 sec ago

Tabby raises $500 million, eyes new GCC markets

RIYADH: Tabby, the leading buy now, pay later (BNPL) provider in Saudi Arabia and the UAE has raised $50 million in a new equity round valuing the company at $300 million.

Global Founders Capital and STV led the funding round, with participation from Delivery Hero and CCVA. Existing investors, including Arbor Ventures, Mubadala Investment Capital, Raed Ventures, Global Ventures, MSA Capital, VentureSouq, Outliers VC, JIMCO, and HOF, also participated.

This comes one month after the firm raised $50 million in debt financing bringing its total funding to over $130 million in less than two years.

The fintech firm’s Series B financing will be used to expand its product portfolio and enter new markets.

The funding will help tabby further service the growing demand for its BNPL products as customer usage continues to soar, especially in Saudi Arabia, the firm’s largest market.

Ahmad Al-Shammari, a partner at STV, said: “As the global BNPL market is expected to grow at 30 percent CAGR over the next five years, we estimate that MENA will grow at least twice as fast, further accelerated by a rapid switch to contactless payments, e-commerce growth, and access to credit.”

Financial technology startups in Saudi Arabia and the UAE offering online short-term credit say they are enjoying exponential growth as the coronavirus pandemic drives a shift in consumer spending online.

BNPL purchasing is relatively new to the region where consumers have traditionally been skeptical of paying for goods before getting them.

But Saudi-based Tamara and UAE’s Spotii, Tabby, and Postpay all say the take-up has far exceeded initial expectations. And investors are paying attention. Tamara recently raised $110 million in debt and equity, a large amount for an early-stage Middle East startup.

“With global players consolidating the MENA BNPL space, we are proud to continue building a local business and work with investors who understand its value. This investment will enable us to deliver the most rewarding and relevant shopping experience for regional consumers and retailers,” said Hosam Arab, CEO, and co-founder of the fintech firm.

This investment marks Delivery Hero’s first fintech investment in MENA. Delivery Hero, which owns and operates several regional food and grocery delivery companies including Talabat, InstaShop, and Hunger Station, has one of the largest customer bases in the Middle East and Africa (MENA) region.

“We are excited to be investing in tabby as our first FinTech investment in MENA, a strategically important region for Delivery Hero. We see great potential in tabby to drive the industry forward and are proud to be supporting the company on its growth journey,” Mark Venema, senior vice president, strategy at Delivery Hero, said.


Inflation in Saudi Arabia likely to decline in coming months

Updated 04 August 2021

Inflation in Saudi Arabia likely to decline in coming months

  • Credit to private companies will increase, depending on the Saudi economy recovery, says Al-Sudairi

RIYADH: The inflation rate in Saudi Arabia is expected to be 3.2 percent and the rate would decline because of a higher base, Mazen Al-Sudairi, head of research at Al-Rajhi Capital, told Arab News.

The cost of living index of Saudi Arabia remained in the positive trajectory and increased by 6.2 percent year-on-year in June 2021, mainly driven by a rise in value-added tax (VAT) from 5 percent to 15 percent in July 2020, according to Al-Rajhi Capital.

Saudi spending in the local market, especially in the retail, food, and beverages, and health segments continues to support the economy, it added.

Point of sales transactions continued their uptrend, increasing 4.6 percent in June 2021 compared to June of last year, primarily driven by an increase in restaurants and hotels, clothing and footwear, and health segments, Saudi Central Bank (SAMA) data revealed.

Credit to the private sector increased 16.8 percent year-on-year in June, while bank claims on the public sector increased 9.6 percent and the deposits grew by 10.2 percent, the official data showed.

Credit to private companies will increase, depending on the Saudi economy recovery, said Al-Sudairi.

SAMA also pointed out in its latest monthly report that remittances from Saudi nationals increased by 56 percent year-on-year in June 2021, while remittances growth from non-Saudi nationals declined 3.4 percent.

Remittance for Saudis increased due to an increase in travel while for expats the trend remains broadly flat, Al-Sudairi added.

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) said that Saudi Arabia’s economy is recovering well from the pandemic, and the Kingdom opened its doors to vaccinated foreign tourists on Aug.1.