It seems there’s a tempest brewing in Israel over what the media has dubbed Ofergate, the scandal over ongoing trade links between Israel’s largest conglomerate and Iran in violation of international sanctions. This led to the Obama administration blacklisting the company. All the major Israeli TV and print media (except Haaretz, whose security correspondent, Yossi Melman, has placed me on his blacklist over an earlier story) have noted the scoop I reported yesterday, that Ofer Brothers ships had docked in Iran dozens of times bringing a bit more than crude oil. To wit, Mossad agents conducting secret missions inside the country.
Today, the company itself conceded that it had performed services in the national interest at the request of Israeli intelligence:
According to the source close to the Ofer family, who asked to remain anonymous because of the sensitivity of the matter, Israeli officials have been assisted in a number of cases in recent years by the Ofer family’s business activities in the Persian Gulf for “national needs.”
“It’s no secret that the State of Israel sometimes seeks the help of business people,” the source said. “Some agree and some don’t.”
As I’ve reported, it’s not so much that Ofer Brothers is an independent company which happened to agree to help Israeli intelligence. It’s more like the company that is completely intertwined with the military and intelligence, with senior officers of both the IDF and Mossad in key corporate leadership roles. It might be more likely to say that Ofer Brothers is an Israeli intelligence asset, a company at the service of the security forces.
I wrote yesterday of the distinct possibility of the current Israeli national security advisor, Yaakov Amidror, one of the company’s former board members who was handsomely paid for his services as well, having caused the adjournment of a Knesset committee hearing into the illegal Iran trade. It pays to have friends in high, and the right places when you need them.
Former Mossad chief, Meir Dagan, continued for the second day, his publicity blitz on behalf of Ofer, saying that while he wasn’t shilling for the company, it didn’t do anything illegal anyway:
…The former Mossad chief said that he was “not the Ofer family’s defender, I am not their representative, I’m just concerned about the State of Israel.”
“There’s no law saying you can’t dock in Iran. I’m worried about the thousands of Ofer family workers who could get hurt by the issue and their livelihood means a lot to me,” Dagan said, adding: “They did not trade with Iran. They’re a transportation company. And besides, there’s no boycott on Iran.”
Tell it to the Obama administration which seems to think otherwise. Besides, isn’t this being too clever by half? Of course, it’s legal to dock a ship in Iran. But it isn’t legal to trade with Iran. And saying Ofer Brothers didn’t trade with Iran ignores the fact that they owned the ship that was docked in Iran and doing the trading. The fact that the ship was leased to a third-party, which was responsible for the actual commercial transaction is again, too cute by half.
If you make a mockery of the international sanctions which Israel professes to support. But the most important issue is if you believe that Iran is an existential threat to Israel and that the world should do everything in its power to eliminate that threat, what are you doing trading with the enemy, thereby bolstering his economy? Or as Ynetnews says in its portrayal of a report from one of Israel’s leading finance publications:
A Calcalist report revealed this week that between 2004-2010 at least seven oil tankers belonging to Sami Ofer’s Tanker Pacific docked in an Iranian port on Kharg Island. According to the report, the ships frequented the port eight times, all while Israel was massively lobbying the US to sanction trade with Iran, and even after said sanctions were announced.
There’s another important underlying issue here as well: what real purpose is served by the espionage against Iran? So you offload a few assassins or bomb makers and kill a few nuclear scientists or sabotage a rocket complex, perhaps setting back various military programs. What is your long-term goal? Do you expect to be Iran’s enemy for eternity or the next six generations? Or is there a way you can learn to co-exist peacefully without each country crying murder against the other? And is the benefit of the espionage or sabotage greater than the harm caused to Israel’s reputation and the international sanctions regime by exposure of such behavior?
Meir Dagan, the ex-intelligence head who seems not to want to go quietly into that good night, made even more headlines today in his first public speech in which he derided current Israeli government policy which has tacitly advocated a military strike against Iran. He also predicted a costly regional war if Israel attempts to wipe out Iran’s nuclear facilities with an armed strike:
Israel doesn’t “have the capability to stop the Iranian nuclear program, only to delay it.”
“If anyone seriously considers [a strike] he needs to understand that he’s dragging Israel into a regional war that it would not know how to get out of. The security challenge would become unbearable,” Dagan said.
He said as much recently so that part of his speech wasn’t new. What was new was Dagan’s statement that Israel cannot prevent Iran from attaining a nuclear weapon. It can at most delay the prospect. Though Israeli think tanks have said as much, no one at as senior a level as he has ever said this as explicitly.
So I repeat my question, if you’re not going to stop Iran what’s the point of the skullduggery? What’s the point of the secret rendezvous in Iranian ports? Why not come to terms with what might happen and make the best deal you can get with the Iranians so that their nuclear program can be properly monitored by international inspectors?
Isn’t it amazing that politicians and spooks who are sons of bitches when they’re in office all of sudden become elder statesmen when they’re not. Amazing how much Dagan’s political IQ has risen since he was booted out of the director’s chair by Bibi. He makes so much more sense now than he did back then when he directed the assassination of Mahmoud al-Mabouh, which blew up in Dagan’s and Israel’s face internationally.
Returning to Ofer Brothers and the U.S. blacklist, given the company’s major interests in shipping and oil trading (the brothers are the richest individuals in Israel), losing the U.S. as a trade partner has to put a huge dent in the corporate bottom line.
The last word on this hypocritical charade goes to the infamous Nahum Manbar, the Israeli businessman convicted of supposedly trafficking in materials that could be used by Iran to produce chemical weapons:
Nahum Manbar, who is serving a 16-year sentence on charges of espionage and treason for trading with Iran, yesterday…lashed out at the disproportianate treatment enjoyed by the Ofers.
Manbar was convicted of selling Iran chemicals an Israeli court said were intended to produce chemical weapons.
“The establishment took revenge on me while they, the Ofer Brothers have connections in government and nobody’s touching them,” Manbar said…
…”I don’t…understand why and how I was convicted for trading with Iran – with which I traded [with the authorities’ permission]–while there was no law forbidding it at all. Meanwhile when it comes to the Ofer brothers they’re deliberating whether to even investigate them. Obviously there’s discrimination here,” he said.
Gee, d’ya think?
PERSONAL NOTE: If there are any degenerate individuals who think that by threatening the lives of my children that this will scare me, intimidate me, or cause me to change what I do, how I write or what I write about…think again. On the contrary, it will convince me that anyone so threatened that he must resort to this sort of aberrant behavior–means I am on precisely the right track. It will only make me redouble my efforts to cover the stories I do, to expose wrongdoing and injustice. You cannot grapple with my ideas and so you brag that you will debase my children. I can’t imagine how this person believes he is advancing Israel’s interests by doing this. On the contrary, it makes the country and policies you support look as sick and wicked as you are. I will not be intimidated. In fact, it will only make me stronger.
To my other readers, I am sorry to add such a discordant note to this post. Unfortunately, it was imperative that I do so.
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.