israel oil spill
Millions of litres of crude oil has spilled in southern Israel. Reuters

A massive oil spill that flooded a nature reserve in Israel with up to five million litres of crude oil could take years to clean up.

The desert spill took place last week when a pipeline was breached and began discharging oil in to the Evrona desert reserve, a location famed for its deer and plant life.

While the clean-up operation is already underway, with teams erecting barriers to prevent the oil spreading, experts at the site said heavy rainfall could overwhelm their defences and spread as far as the Red Sea coast line and neighbouring Jordan.

"How exactly do you take care of a deer that is running and limping because of the oil? How do you clean the vegetation? This is very complicated business," said Roey Talbi, an ecologist at Israel's Nature and Parks Authority, as quoted by Reuters news agency.

"We don't have experience with something of this scale. Clean-up could take months, it could take years," said Tali Tenenbaum, a spokesperson from the same Authority.

The damage occurred during maintenance work on the pipeline between the Red Sea city of Eilat and Ashkelon.