Ofer Brothers tankers
Two of Tanker Pacific’s ships.
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Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein is examing the Ofer brothers shipping affair. The Ofers and their shipping company have been accused of selling an oil tanker to the Iranian national shipping company, as well as having their ships dock in Iranian ports and load and offload cargo there.

Weinstein decided to start his investigation after numerous requests for an inquiry reached him from a wide range of bodies. The Justice Ministry spokesman told TheMarker: "The requests received on the matter are being examined." The Finance Ministry has also started its own examination of the matter.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu related to the Ofer brothers affair for the first in public yesterday. At a session of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, Netanyahu said that after inquiring with the relevant authorities in his office, it turns out the Ofer brothers shipping company had never been given approval to anchor in an Iranian port or for Israeli ships to deliver goods to the Iranians.

In response to a question from MK Ofir Akunis (Likud ) in the committee session, Netanyahu said: "Israel has a very clear policy on the issue of Iran: It is forbidden to have any form of contacts."

As to whether the Prime Minister's Office knew anything of the Ofer brothers affair, Netanyahu said he only learned of the matter from the press.

Officials in the PMO rejected claims attributed to the Ofer brothers group that Israeli officials had approved the docking of the ships in Iranian ports. "The claim is not true," said the PMO officials.

Defense Minister Ehud Barak said yesterday in a meeting of the Aztmaut faction in the Knesset that the sanctions against Iran are essential and that "it is important that the pressure continues and we will enforce the rules also on ourselves," said Barak. He said he did not know the details of the affair.

Iran is defined by Israeli law as an enemy state, and it is illegal to do business with Iran or to transport goods to or from the country.

If the reports that ships from Tanker Pacific, a shipping company controlled by Idan Ofer's Ofer Group, did visit Iran 13 times in the past decade, then it is possible the company - and its management - broke Israeli law. In addition, in 2008, Iran reportedly leased three supertankers from Tanker Pacific for 90 days to store 270,000 tons of oil, and paid $213 million. This is also another possible violation of trading directly with Iran. Channel 10 reported that the company admitted it had continued to export oil from Iran until six months ago.

Iranians deny working with Zionist firms

Senior Iranian officials vehemently denied all claims there were any commercial connections between the Ofers' Tanker Pacific shipping company and Iranian companies, reported the official Fars News Agency. "Israeli ships do not dare to dock at Iranian ports," the deputy managing director of Iran's Port and Maritime Organization, Mohsen Sadeqifar said. "Ships belonging to shipping lines of the United States and particularly the Zionist regime (Israel ) have never entered Iranian ports in recent years," he added. "News about activities of Zionist [Israeli] firms in Iran is a new game started in reaction to the willingness of certain countries to establish economic ties with Iran," he said.

Mohammad Nahavandian, the chairman of Iran's Chamber of Commerce, Industries and Mines strongly dismissed a recent report on Iran's transaction with Israeli firms and corporations: "In addition to legal ban, Iran regards Zionist firms and their policy makers as the main factors behind economic sanctions (against the Islamic Republic ) and refrains from making any deal with them," he said.

The affair broke into the news last week when the U.S. State Department announced it was levying sanctions on the Ofer Brothers Group and shipping companies for selling an oil tanker to the Iranian national shipping company - and violating trade sanctions against Iran. The Ofers said they had sold the ship to a third party and had no knowledge of the sale to Iran. If the Ofers' claim is true, then it is not clear whether they violated Israeli law in selling the oil tanker. Almost all trade between Israel and Iran goes through third parties, and while a legal loophole may exist, it is certainly clear that such deals violate the spirit of the law.

The Knesset Economic Affairs Committee will hold a session this afternoon on "Israeli companies' trade with Iran."