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The Israeli shipping giant Zim has plunged into the heated debate in the US over contracting six ports to a Dubai company by providing the firm with a strong endorsement.
In a letter to Senator Hillary Clinton (D-NY), Zim chairman Idan Ofer has expressed support for the Dubai Ports World (DPW) company and vouched for its security standards.
In the letter, first reported by CNN, Ofer called DPW "a strong business partner" and praised its professional standards.
"We are proud to be associated with DP World and look forward to working with them into the future," Ofer wrote to Clinton in the letter sent last week, when the controversy first hit the headlines.
US lawmakers are trying to block the deal, which would provide the Dubai firm with contracts to operate six US ports. Democrats as well as some Republicans said the US should not outsource responsibility for security at the ports to DPW, because of the UAE's record on terror and the involvement of its citizens in terrorist attacks against the US.
The deal came under additional fire this week following a Jerusalem Post report revealing that DPW's parent company complied with the Arab boycott of Israel.
Ofer's letter touched on the most sensitive issue - security, which was the main concern of the deal's critics. "During our long association with DP World, we have not experienced a single security issue in these ports or in any of the terminals operated by DP World," he wrote, stressing that as an Israeli firm, Zim was especially aware of such issues.
Ofer was quoted on CNN saying that Zim's ships used Dubai ports, but that they did so under other flags. "DP World has been an industry leader with regard to security and works closely with us on an ongoing basis to maintain the highest security standards in all its terminals around the world," Ofer wrote.
The Zim letter was seen as a significant endorsement for the Dubai company, because Israel was known for its strict security standards. It helped DPW improve its image in the US and counter the criticism it faced because of the boycott policy.
DPW Chief Operating Officer Edward Bilkey told Congress Tuesday, in response to claims concerning the Arab boycott, that Zim was one of DPW's largest customers.
In the interview with CNN, Ofer confirmed that he had sent the letter to Clinton and said he also intended to send one to Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY). Both Clinton and Schumer have been among the harshest critics of the ports deal.
In the interview, Offer said his reason for sending the letters was to make sure the lawmakers knew that the Dubai firm had "first class people" and to put his support on the record. He also said he did not understand the controversy about the ports deal, since the final authority on issues of security rested with the US Department of Homeland Security and not with any private company.