Gov’t silence breeds speculation on Ofer Brothers affair

US blogger quotes Israeli politician as saying ships docked in Iran to allow Mossad agents to sneak ashore.

By NADAV SHEMER, RON FRIEDMAN
June 2, 2011 05:00
4 minute read.
Sammy Ofer (right) with brother Yuli in 1999

ofer brothers_311 reuters. (photo credit: Reuters)

A week after the US State Department announced it was placing sanctions on Israeli company the Ofer Brothers Group over the sale of an oil tanker to Iran, government silence on the matter is producing widespread speculation.

On Wednesday, American Richard Silverstein wrote on his blog Tikun Olam that an unnamed veteran Israeli politician had told him that ships belonging to the Ofer brothers had docked in Iranian ports in order to allow Mossad agents to sneak ashore for secret missions.

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The statement echoes an hypothesis voiced on Monday by MK Arye Eldad (National Union), who said the tankers that docked in Iran might have been spying on behalf of Israel and photographing its coasts, and therefore it must be established whether they were “heroes or villains.”

“It may be that the relative silence coming out of the government and the Ofer brothers is because of the sensitive nature of the deeds, maybe things are more complicated than meets the eye,” Eldad said.

No Israeli sources agreed to comment on the blog post.

The abrupt cancellation of a Knesset Economics Committee meeting on Tuesday that was supposed to debate the company’s actions and the state’s role in response, added to the mystery surrounding the affair. Committee chairman Carmel Shama- Hacohen (Likud) adjourned the meeting after a few minutes, upon receiving a note from an unidentified source.

“There are no new details since I got the note,” Shama-Hacohen said, reiterating that the note’s contents were the main reason for closing the discussion.

He added that another consideration in the abrupt interruption of Tuesday’s meeting was the lack of representation from the Ofer Brothers Group.

“I knew the Ofer brothers themselves wouldn’t attend the meeting, but I thought they’d send a lawyer or their director-general,” Shama-Hacohen said. “There wasn’t anyone to ask questions about the core of the discussion.”

It was unclear whether the committee would hold another meeting on the matter, he said. “It’s important to investigate the facts, ask questions, and clarify things on the parliamentary level. However, we do not want to stand in the way of other processes,” he added, referring to rumors that Attorney-General Yehuda Weinstein plans to investigate Ofer Brothers’ dealings with Iran.

On Tuesday night, a note was posted on Shama-Hacohen’s Facebook page that read, “Carmel, the discussion is unnecessary at the moment. There are new details that change the whole picture.”

The MK soon issued a statement, writing on Facebook that “the note does not have any resemblance to the original note.”

Shama-Hacohen added, “the note [he received at the Knesset] is far less interesting than it seems.”

Meanwhile, the Prime Minister’s Office responded on Wednesday to media reports that National Security Council head Maj.

Gen. (res.) Yaakov Amidror had served as a director on the boards of more than one Ofer Brothers-controlled company, by saying that Amidror “had no connection whatsoever to any one of the companies accused of dealing with the transfer of gas to Iran or to a company that sold a tanker to an Iranian company.”

Haaretz reported that Amidror, a former head of research in Military Intelligence, had been a director of Ofer Brothers-controlled companies Israel Corporation and Zim Integrated Shipping Services since at least 2007, and that he had resigned from those roles upon assuming his position at the National Security Council, to which he was appointed by Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu in February.

The Prime Minister’s Office confirmed the Haaretz report, but said Zim and Israel Corporation had no connection to the allegations against Ofer Brothers.

Despite repeated requests for the attorney- general to open a comprehensive probe into the affair, there has been no motion to do so thus far.

“The attorney-general has received many requests to investigate the affair and is examining them. The A-G has not ordered a police investigation into the matter,” the Justice Ministry spokesman said.

Moshe Negbi, legal commentator for the Israel Broadcasting Authority, said it was the attorney-general’s responsibility to investigate the specific case, but it was the Knesset’s job to oversee the government and get answers to question raised over enforcement the law prohibiting trade with enemy states.

“If it turns out that the Finance Ministry organs mandated to enforce the prohibition failed, it is the Economics Committee’s job to investigate the matter,” Negbi said.

Former Mossad Chief Meir Dagan said during a conference at Tel Aviv University on Wednesday evening that he didn’t believe the Ofer family broke any law.

“I am not the Ofer family’s protector, they don’t need me to protect them. Not all the facts are known and the question is whether or not they broke the law. Based on what I know, they didn’t break any law, if they just sent goods to Iran,” said Dagan.


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