The Ofer Brothers story is turning into a serious scandal given the digging now being done by Israeli journalists (and my Israeli source). Earlier today, I reported that Ofer Brothers had transported Mossad agents on secret missions to Iran during the dozens of illegal visits its ships made to that country violating the international embargo. The company claims, apparently rightly, that it had government permission to engage in this trade. The government in turn denies this.
I noted in that earlier post that the Mossad clearly was exploiting Israeli commercial enterprises like the Ofer Brothers for purposes of espionage and possibly even the acts of terror which Israeli journalists have alluded were carried out by the intelligence agency inside Iran. But now it appears that Ofer Brothers, Israel’s largest and most profitable conglomerate, may in effect be an intelligence asset. Of course, it is a functioning company, but it is so intertwined with the military-intelligence apparatus that there is in effect little or no distinction between the two. In fact, it’s only somewhat of an exaggeration to say it might be a wholly-owned subsidiary of the IDF and Mossad.
Let’s begin with Bibi Netanyahu’s new hard-right pro-settler national security advisor, Yaakov Amidror. Here’s what Haaretz reported about his role in the company:
Until less than two months ago Yaakov Amidror, the head of the National Security Council and the prime minister’s national security advisor, sat on the boards of several companies of the Ofer Brother Group…
Amidror, former head of military colleges in the Israel Defense Forces and of the research department of Military Intelligence, was appointed to the board of the Israel Corporation, which is controlled by brothers Sami and Idan Ofer, in early 2007. Amidror also served on the boards of several other Ofer-controlled companies, including two subsidiaries of Zim Integrated Shipping Services. Board members of these companies are usually paid several thousand shekels for each meeting, adding up to tens of thousands of shekels per year.
In fact, if you read this passage closely, it insinuates that the Knesset committee chair who abruptly adjourned his hearing into the Ofer Brothers affair, did so upon receiving a note from none other than Amridor himself. The following passage is my own translation of the original Hebrew article, which differs from the English translation offered by Haaretz:
The hearing of the Knesset Finance Committee was abruptly adjourned…after the chair MK Carmel Shama-HaCohen received a message handed to him by his assistant. Earlier in the hearing, he had asked whether a National Security Council representative was in attendance – none was. Later, Shama-HaCohen said he’d turned to the Council [representative who wasn’t there], at the head of which stands Amridor, to receive answers concerning the case.
My own Israeli source, a veteran Israeli politician told me that the individual who sent the note to Shama-Hacohen was a “very senior security official,” which would certainly fit the bill for Amidror. If it was him, then this begins to look like blatant political interference on Ofer Brothers behalf by a security insider who owes tons of favors to the family. In any other democracy this would be a huge scandal. In Israel–I’m not so sure.
In this passage, Amidror hints that he wasn’t involved in the matter but leaves open the possibility that one of his staff was:
As for Shama-Hacohen’s query to the National Security Council, Amidror said he left his office around noon, “and did not receive the honorable member’s query by that time. If his questions concern the Iranian issue in general I’ll gladly answer, but if it’s about the Ofer family I won’t answer it anyway and the issue will be addressed by other members of the council,” Amidror said.
But given the information offered by my source, it’s possible the NSC director is lying. Even if he isn’t and he wasn’t directly involved, it’s entirely possible he directed his staff to intervene in the hearing. Doing a favor for his good buddies, the brothers Ofer?? Their political fixer?
Haaretz recounts further crossover between Ofer corporate entities and the military-intelligence services:
In May, Sami and Idan Ofer appointed Pinchas Buchris – former head of MI unit 8200 [Israel’s cyberwarfare unit believed responsible for Stuxnet] and a former defense ministry director general – head of Oil Refineries. Former Shin Bet security service head Jacob Perry is also employed by the Ofer brothers, as chairman of the United Mizarahi bank, which is partly owned by Yuli Ofer.
Former GOC Southern Command, Maj. Gen. (res. ) Erez Chaim has served as head of the ICL group, controlled by Israel Corp, and today serves as a board member of Dead Sea Works, also controlled by the Ofer family. He is also a member of the consulting committee on senior civil service appointments. Another board director employed by the family is lawyer Uri Slonim, who has served as advisor on missing and captive IDF soldiers to seven defense ministers.
Finally, we should remember that this isn’t the first time Israeli firms have violated the Iran embargo. Shraga Elam has reported that Iranian oil has ended up in Israeli gas tanks through such illegal commerce. I wrote about this here and in Comment is Free in 2008:
In European ports like Rotterdam, the oil’s paperwork is changed so that it can be imported into Israel without any markings indicating its real origin.
This oil trade takes place through a joint Iranian-Israeli company established during the Shah’s reign and now controlled by Israel. Iran has demanded the return of the firm’s assets and claimed they were worth $5-billion as of 1998. You can imagine how much more the firm is worth ten years later. This sum is an indication of the size of Israel’s oil trade with Iran.
Do I hear the word “hypocrisy,” anyone? Israel screams bloody murder about the existential threat from Iran, calling practically to incinerate the place, all the while its companies are merrily trading and earning profits from illegal trade with the Iranians. Next time you hear Bibi shreying about the Iranian menace, remember this.