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.
Silverstein has published Tikun Olam since 2003, It exposes the secrets of the Israeli national security state. He lives in Seattle, but his heart is in the east. He publishes regularly at Middle East Eye, the New Arab, and Jacobin Magazine. His work has also appeared in Al Jazeera English, The Nation, Truthout and other outlets.