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Ofer Brothers Ships Transported Mossad Agents to Iran, ‘High Ranking Security Official’ Shut Down Knesset Probe


ofer brothers

Sammy and Yuli Ofer, Israel's richest men, violated Iran embargo (Haaretz)

I haven’t covered or even followed in any great detail the Ofer Brothers scandal involving illegal trade between Israel and Iran.  But developments today really perked up my ears.  First a bit of background: Ofer Brothers are Israel’s wealthiest family, owning shipping and other interests.  They were recently named to a Treasury Department blacklist for engaging in illegal trade with Iran, which included their ships docking at Iranian ports numerous times and sale of one of their tankers to an Iranian shipping company.

This news has erupted into a medium-sized scandal in Israel with the company claiming it had the government’s approval to engage in such trade.  This of course would mean that the government colluded with commercial interests against international sanctions.  Those of you with an interest in intelligence activities and cloak and dagger mystery can imagine why this might be the case.  The government, of course, denies the claims.  The company also claims the government is attempting to get it removed from the blacklist with the foreign ministry denying it is doing so.  All very strange.

Today, a new wrinkle occurred in the case. A Knesset committee was in the middle of a hearing on the affair when the chair was passed a note by a mysterious source, upon which the MK abruptly adjourned the hearing.  No explanation, at least no credible one.  The military censor, who was present at the hearing (because the Knesset speaker had warned that secret information might be revealed) denied causing the adjournment, as does the Knesset security office.  But their denials are unconvincing because they’re not denying they sent the note, but rather denying being the cause of the adjournment.  Unless and until you know the contents of the note, you can’t tell a thing.  But someone, probably in the intelligence community, wanted this hearing stopped in order to protect intelligence assets or activities involving Iran.

UPDATE: A veteran Israeli politician has confirmed to my Israeli source that the note came from a “very high-ranking security official.”  The same source also notes that Ofer Brothers ships docked in Iranian ports “dozens” of times in the past few years, thus allowing “numerous” Mossad agents to sneak ashore for secret missions.  Interesting to note that some of the Mossad agents involved in the al-Mabouh assassination escaped via a ferry to Iran.  That always struck me as odd given Iran’s animosity toward Israel.  But if there was an Ofer Brothers ship waiting to take them home it wouldn’t be strange at all.

I’m betting even money that the note came from Mossad director, Tamir Pardo.  All of this would mean that government protestations that they didn’t approve of such visits are lies unless of course they’re merely claiming the civilian government didn’t approve of such shenanigans.  Indeed, the Ofer Brothers may and will argue that they were only doing their patriotic duty in trading with Iran.  How’s Israel gonna get out of this one I wonder?

This would indicate that Israel utilized a web of legitimate commercial interests to pursue its intelligence activities inside Iran.  And it was willing to exploit such commercial ventures despite the fact that they were in direct contravention of an international embargo.  The only reason the Mossad got caught was that the Obama administration had been crossed one time too many by Bibi and wanted to bring him down a peg or two.  The Ofer Brothers blacklist story broke the same day Bibi came to Washington and this could not have been an accident.

UPDATE I: Israel’s Channel 2 news just asked Ofer Brothers to comment on this report and their response was “no comment.”  Rarely have two words conveying silence spoken so eloquently.  An indication of how explosive the scandal is becoming is that this report calls it “Ofergate.”

Meir Dagan, Israel’s more recent former Mossad chief, has publicly pooh-poohed the affair as much ado about nothing.  Which of course does not mean that it is much ado about nothing, but rather than the Mossad probably doesn’t want the public to know about collaboration between his agency and Ofer Brothers in surveilling or penetrating Iranian facilities or infrastructure.  In fact, this is an example of a Mossad official telling you one thing because the exact opposite is true.

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{ 27 comments… add one }
  • Roey May 31, 2011, 9:41 PM

    I wonder…..you said that you love israel….how this information will help israel or other country in her fight against iran?!

    • Richard Silverstein June 1, 2011, 12:57 AM

      To love Israel, I don’t have to love the actions of her intelligence agencies, assasassinations & other violations of international law. I love an Israel that will be a member in good standing of the world community. Not a rogue state.

      • Yaron June 1, 2011, 1:25 AM

        Thank God we do not need your concet to anything. By the way. do you check what your goverment is doing??????

      • Avis June 1, 2011, 7:05 AM

        How capriciously irresponsible and comfortable of you. You sit somewhere in USA and judge us with your silly blog. Have you ever held even an iota of the enormous responsibility of protecting our people? You haven’t a clue as to what it actually means to get out from behind the keyboard and assure that there even will be an Israel to fill your “expertise”. We risk and even tragically lose our lives for you to feel good at USA cocktail parties writing such nonsense. I have an idea Richard, come with me to work for just ONE week and we’ll see how quickly your “Expertise” changes. Al Salaam Aleikum Habibi.

        • Richard Silverstein June 1, 2011, 2:05 PM

          The question is– where do u work? Sounds like IDF or intelligence.

          • Avis June 2, 2011, 12:21 PM

            Contact me via email, come to Israel and I’ll arrange a tour for you of what it means to defend Israel. Come see what it is you are writing about. Surely it’s an intellectually honest exercise for you regardless of the outcome. Don’t be so comfortable Richard, come sweat a little (mentally). Come see what it means to take decisions and than be responsible for the outcome, its a different game than blog writing. If you come, I will guarantee you will see many things on both sides of all our borders that will challenge your thoughts. Shalom/Salaam

          • Richard Silverstein June 2, 2011, 1:43 PM

            You think I take lightly what I’m doing? You think writing this blog is “comfortable?” Think again. I don’t need for you to give me the Arik Sharon helicopter tour & lecture about the vulnerability of Israel to Arab attack. Actually, you need to take a trip of your own–to Gaza or the latest village to be pillaged or savaged by the IDF or settlers. When you take that trip let me know & then I’ll take that trip with you.

          • Avis June 3, 2011, 5:52 AM

            Yes, to answer your question, I do think you take lightly what you are doing. You have nothing on the line, are ultimately responsible for nothing, and regardless of the daily facts, your day/week/month/life don’t change one drop, so yes I think you take lightly what you are doing.

            What little imagination you must have to think I was offering you an “Arik Sharon helicopter tour & lecture about the vulnerability….” AND now you want to lecture me about Gaza and the Territories, wow Richard amazing how comfortable (there’s that word again) you are lecturing me about things I live and you have a hobbyists interest in.

            I would think you’d have the intellectual honesty & integrity to make the trip and maybe even challenge your beliefs.

            As for your retort about making a trip of my own, well, I’m here now, again and again and yes, again, nothing new there.

            OK, this is a waste of time, if ever want to challenge your pre conceived ill-informed notions, you are always welcome. I’ve lost my appetite for these ubiquitous blogs.

            By the way, the ‘tour” has no helicopter and it starts at Birzeit University where you’ll meet and have to face your own prejudices, just a bit….

            Shalom

            P.S. I am absolutely disgusted that anyone threatened your family (read that on your site). How valiant these “Warriors” are when they merely have to face a PC screen. I am sorry you had to have that experience, I know what it is to have to protect ones family/country, and it is a huge obligation…

            I agree very little with the few pieces I’ve read of yours, but agree a great deal with our right to say/write it. Sad that those who threaten you dont get that.

  • proud israeli May 31, 2011, 11:57 PM

    to you, a better place is no-israel-place?

    • Richard Silverstein June 1, 2011, 1:05 AM

      No, wrong. Try reading the blog before deciding whether I favor Israel’s destruction (I don’t).

  • Shai June 1, 2011, 1:48 AM

    Now that you’ve appeared on Channel 2 news, I can only imagine how this scandal will unfold. The possible scope of this is mind-numbing. I’m thinking unprecedented political cronyism.

  • Shraga Elam June 1, 2011, 2:14 AM

    The chances that Ofer’s ships were used for Israeli Mossad operations are very low. I was with an Israeli tanker in the Mid-70s in the “port” of Kharg Island. We transported oil to Eilat/Israel and although at that time there were excellent relationships between the two countries, nobody of the crew got ashore, because we were in the middle of nowhere. This is BTW usually the case with supertankers and it would be very difficult to smuggle any persons from such a vessel.
    The most likely explanation for the “Ofergate” and the secrecy around it, is that the tankers were used to transport Iranian oil to Israel, which is known to consume such oil (see e.g. http://shraga-elam.blogspot.com/2008/04/israel-buys-iranian-oil.html

    • Richard Silverstein June 1, 2011, 2:12 PM

      Then why didn’t Ofer Bros. deny the story when Channel 2 offered them the chance?

      Also, my source has an impeccable record so I’m loathe to doubt. But I’ll keep what u say in mind.

      • Steve June 1, 2011, 3:02 PM

        When the story first broke, the consensus among the Israeli Journalists (see e.g. London & Kirshenbaum 5-31-11) was that the Ofer conglomerate is quite large and as typically found in the shipping industry, the owners of ships have little knowledge and have nothing to do with what happens with the ship. This was found to have occurred numerous times, e.g. Karine A, owners had no knowledge of its use in supplying weapons to Hamas, also recently when Israel stopped a vessel that contained arms intended for Hizbullah, owners also had no knowledge of illicit activities.

        • Richard Silverstein June 1, 2011, 10:48 PM

          Then why does the Israeli media report today that Ofer Brothers issued a directive to all leasors of their ships in 2009 that they may not dock in Iran??? Of course they’re responsible for where their ships go. Unless of course they don’t wish to do any further business in the U.S.

          • Steve June 2, 2011, 5:15 AM

            I hate to get technical, but facts are important.
            1. The sanctions were issued for a single event that allegedly occurred in September 2010. – ” These companies are being sanctioned for their respective roles in a September 2010 transaction that provided a tanker valued at $8.65 million to the Islamic Republic of Iran Shipping Lines (IRISL),” See Department of State Press Release – http://www.state.gov/r/pa/prs/ps/2011/05/164132.htm .
            2. The Iran Sanctions Act was amended in 2009/10, and Israeli companies took a more strict approach to avoid the implication of impropriety and issued a directive not to transfer any crude oil from Iran, which is still permissible and lawful due to the interest of the US in keeping oil prices down.
            3. Under US law – what ofer did was lawful – “For example, selling Iran an oil or gas drill rig or motors or other gear that Iran will use to drill for oil or gas would not appear to be sanctionable, unless the sale is structured to provide the seller ongoing profits or royalties.” Kenneth Kaztman, Iran Sanctions, Congressional Research
            Service, May 2, 2011, pg. 8 Available at – http://www.fas.org/sgp/crs/mideast/RS20871.pdf.
            It was not until July 2010 that the “Comprehensive Iran Sanctions, Accountability and Divestment Act” (CISADA) made sanctionable “sales of equipment to Iran to enhance or expand its oil refineries, or equipment with which Iran could import gasoline (such as tankers), and of equipment that Iran could use to construct an energy pipeline.”
            As mentioned above the ship was delivered in September 2010 less than 45 days after the law was passed, the contract to sell/transfer the ship must have occurred before July 5, 2010.

          • Richard Silverstein June 2, 2011, 1:11 PM

            Wow, so you’re claiming that the blacklisting by the U.S. gov’t was wrong & that somehow the calculated interpretation by career diplomats & intelligence officials of the law was wrong. You must be pretty smart to know better than them. Have you brought yr pearls of wisdom to the attention of all those idiots who misinterpreted U.S. law? Puh-leeze.

          • Steve June 2, 2011, 3:33 PM

            “Calculated Interpretation of Career Diplomats” Is that an oxymoron? So you are saying the Obama administration would not act in a calculated manner or play hard and fast with the law? your joking? You Misunderestimate the Obama Admin.
            But Israel on the other hand… they’re incapable of anything short of tickle torture!

  • Shai June 1, 2011, 4:05 AM

    You’re on Ynet, too.

    I suppose congratulations are in order. :P

    I hope all of this turns out to be a wild fantasy.

  • Ilan June 1, 2011, 5:48 AM

    Terrorists will be hunted down and eliminated. That’s peace.

    • Richard Silverstein June 1, 2011, 2:06 PM

      Even when they’re Israeli??

      • Steve June 1, 2011, 3:06 PM

        Yes, Indeed recall “Hatotach Hakadosh” (Holy Cannon – that sunk the Altelena) Israel cleaned house a long time ago (albeit unjustifiedly and with the consequence of loosing jerusalem to the Jordanian legion) Lets see a Totach Hakadosh being lobbed by Fatah against Hamas…. Fat Chance!

  • Steve June 1, 2011, 1:42 PM

    If what you say is true…. then the real question is why did US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton decide to blow the operation out of the water? Is this payback against Netanyahu? The temporal connection to Netanyahu’s speech and the Leiberman/Clinton faux pas cannot be ignored.
    So who is the winner here?

    • elhrac June 1, 2011, 3:01 PM

      Yes, this looks like Obama trying to get even with Israel for refusing to go along with his pre-1967 border plan.

      • Steve June 1, 2011, 3:15 PM

        I imagine that this was something in the works for a long time, the incident occurred in September 2010, which means that the sanctions were improvised and known to be explosive set to be released at a desirable moment to embarrass Israel. The question to be asked is who made the decision to release the info? When was the decision made? did Israel have “foreknowledge” of the info release?

  • Steve June 1, 2011, 3:34 PM

    The sea, the shipping industry and ports, have always been “fair” game in the spy world, it is only the naive who think that its all business. The question is why are such accusations immediately viewed as credible when they concern Israel? Why would Ofer willingly jeopardize their billion dollar business for some petty ships that due to their size cannot even approach the shore? For some reason similar accusations in recent history were all rejected as fear mongering:

    We tend to forget the Dubai Ports World controversy, when there were “security concerns” about the Dubai company running one of the largest ports in the United States – despite the fact that we knew about the Dubai-Iran connection – “Dubai Helps Iran Evade Sanctions as Smugglers Ignore U.S. Laws” 25, K., 2011. Dubai Helps Iran Evade Sanctions as Smugglers Ignore U.S. Laws [Online] (Updated 01 June 2011) Available at: http://www.bloomberg.com/apps/news?pid=newsarchive&sid=av5smtYe_DDA [Accessed 01 June 2011].
    The same goes for the concerns about China controlled Hutchison Whampoa controlling the Port of Balboa in the Panama Canal.

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