The plan to privatize Eilat's port has almost run aground: Following the withdrawal of three out of four participating bidders, the Finance Ministry postponed the bid deadline until Aug. 15 in the hopes that a new contender would compete against the sole remaining bidder: Israel Chemicals, which is controlled by the powerful tycoon Idan Ofer.
The withdrawing companies cited tough tender requirements as the reason for removing their offers. These companies were Gold Bond Group, which specializes in the shipping of hazardous materials, Gadot Group, which handles chemicals coming in and out of Israel, and the Nakash brothers' Papo Maritime company. As part of the tender, the Finance Ministry required all the contenders to submit a minimum bid of NIS 100 million ($25.5 million), with another NIS 50 million ($12.5 million) to be used to renovate Eilat's southern port. The Finance Ministry has also "absorbed" NIS 70 million ($ 17.5 million) out of the port's own treasury, so as to prevent this amount from falling into the hands of whichever company wins the tender. The ministry did this after drawing conclusions from the privatization of another company -- Israeli fuels company Paz, which was sold to private owners in the 1980's. The Finance Ministry is planning on issuing more changes to the terms of the tender, so as to appeal to new contenders.
After Israel Chemicals, whose majority shareholder is Idan Ofer, became the only remaining bidder, Labor leader Shelly Yachimovich threatened to petition Israel's High Court if the tender for Eilat's port is not cancelled. In a letter she sent to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz (Likud), Yachimovich wrote: "All this tender means to do is transfer yet another property into the hands of the Ofer family. This is the third time that government assets are being transferred to a single bidders, which completely negates the desire to decrese concentration. I hope this is due only to negligence."
Yachimovich threatened to bring the matter to the High Court, "in order to protect the public from a dangerous takeover orchestrated by one family, which is using its many subsidiaries and their subsidiaries to gain control over an entire country."
In addition to Yachimovich, MKs Zahava Gal-On (Meretz) and Raleb Majadale (Labor) also came out against the tender. The two announced they plan on holding an emergency meeting of the Knesset Finance Committee to discuss the matter. Without said committee's consent, the Eilat port cannot be sold into private hands.
"We have been warning for months that the privatization of Eilat's port was becoming a repeat of former privatizations that have also ended in the hands of the same people, who are already used to purchasing public property for next to nothing."
Israel Chemicals responded by saying that "ICL is the largest employer in Israel's Negev region and one of the country's biggest exporters. The company is due to invest some NIS 10 billion ($ 250 million) in the Negev, including NIS 0.5 billion ($ 127 million) just in the Eilat port." According to Israel Chemicals, "The current attempt to disqualify ICL from taking part in the bid is nothing but empty and harmful populism. Disqualifying ICL would lead to the purchase of Eilat's port for next to nothing, which would result in the loss of the port workers' rights and would put the entire port's future at risk."