International flights canceled and seaports closed as Israeli-Palestinian conflict disrupts logistics movements

International flights canceled and seaports closed as Israeli-Palestinian conflict disrupts logistics movements

On May 10, a decades-long conflict between Israel and Palestine escalated following recent clashes between Palestinians and Israeli police forces at the al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem. Within a week, the conflict had turned into the most intense fighting since 2014, with warnings that it could spiral into a full scale war.

Within the first week, dozens of civilians died, infrastructure was destroyed, and operations at some of Israel’s main sea and airports were severely disrupted. As the conflict entered its second week, international efforts to broker a ceasefire intensified and one finally came into effect on May 21.

Air, sea, and road freight movement in and out of southern Israel have been severely disrupted from the beginning of the crisis. Business activities and the movement of goods are only cautiously beginning to normalize following the recent ceasefire and could be at risk of further disruption if fighting reignites in the coming days or weeks. 

Air freight operations in and out of Israel face disruptions early on

In the last 11 days, Israel carried out hundreds of air strikes across the Gaza Strip, while Hamas, the de facto governing authority of the Gaza Strip, also launched heavy rocket attacks towards Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, and several other cities in southern Israel.

As a result, air freight movement in the region was disrupted early on. Israel’s main international airport, the Ben Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv, halted all air traffic just a day after the conflict erupted, with all incoming flights having been diverted to other airports in the region. Flight operations resumed by May 12, but a number of inbound flights continued to be redirected to Ramon International Airport in the Timna Valley. Although the country’s second largest airport was not hit by rocket fire, operations were briefly disrupted during the first week of the conflict after Hamas claimed to have fired a missile in its direction. By May 16, most foreign airlines were planning to temporarily suspend flights to Israel as the security situation deteriorated. However, carriers including CAL Cargo Airline, DHL Express, and Turkish Airlines still planned to operate freighters bound for Tel Aviv, and Israel’s own flag carrier EL AL Airlines continued its passenger flights. At the same time, Lufthansa AG announced a temporary embargo of perishable shipments and live animals into Ben Gurion Airport.

Map of Israel and Palestinian Territories. Source: BBC.

Although Israel’s defense system, the Iron Dome, has intercepted a large number of missiles, two of the country’s seaports had to temporarily halt operations within the first week of fighting. The Port of Ashdod, one of Israel’s two main cargo ports, as well as the Port of Ashkelon shut down following attacks on the ports’ infrastructure and surrounding facilities, causing berth line-ups to increase as vessels were forced to wait until the ports reopen. While two offshore vessels were only narrowly missed in Ashdod, at least two tanker owners delivering crude oil to Israel had asked to divert their shipments from Ashkelon to the Port of Haifa due to security concerns. In addition, dangerous goods shipments into the ports will need to be approved by an emergency unit of the Israeli army due to new precautionary measures. Within days of the first missile strikes, Tesla was also said to delay the delivery of one of its vehicle models at the Port of Ashdod, after only obtaining an import license in early 2021.

Just weeks before the conflict broke out, congestion and waiting times at the Ports of Ashdod and Haifa had become so severe that shipping companies decided to skip these ports, and unload cargo destined for Israel at ports in Turkey and Egypt instead. This is an issue that could further intensify if the rocket fire shakes up operations at Israel’s seaports for a longer period of time.

In addition to its port area, an industrial area near Ashkelon was hit by a rocket on May 11, damaging an oil storage tank owned by Petroleum & Infrastructures Ltd., which runs a network of fuel pipelines across the country. The incident resulted in a fire at the Trans-Israel pipeline, a 600,000 b/d crude pipeline connecting the port city of Eilat in southern Israel to the western port city of Ashkelon. A day later, Chevron announced that it shut down its offshore Tamar gas platform in the eastern Mediterranean Sea with immediate effect amid security concerns. Following the ceasefire agreement, Chevron was instructed to restart the facility on May 21 by the Energy Ministry of Israel.

Lastly, road freight movements across the region have also been severely disrupted after Israel closed at least two border crossings with Gaza. Gaza’s main trade route has effectively been cut off since Israel closed the Kerem Shalom border crossing, which only briefly reopened to allow aid to enter the Gaza Strip. The Erez checkpoint in the North has also been closed until further notice. Furthermore, disruptions have occurred along the Israeli-Lebanese border after violent clashes broke out between Israeli security forces and Lebanese protesters. Further disruptions to the movement of people and goods are possible as security along the border is likely to be tightened in response to the clashes.

Supply chain flows begin to normalize as ceasefire comes into effect

A ceasefire between Israel and Hamas went into effect at 02:00 local time on May 21, following days of increasing international pressure to end the fighting. Business operations and cargo movement are only slowly beginning to normalize following days of disruption and will likely remain at risk should new pockets of violence break out in the coming days.

Those doing business in Israel should prepare for potential future disruptions to logistics hubs and the movement of goods in parts of Israel, particularly in locations in close proximity to the Gaza Strip as tensions may continue in the months to come. Customers are recommended to keep abreast of the latest political and military developments in the region and to get in touch with local suppliers and carriers to assess business continuity plans for logistics and supply of materials.

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