The Ofer family started its shipping business in Haifa during the British Mandate era. With perseverance, resolve and business acumen the small agency grew into an economic empire. One of its scions, David, preferred to stay in public service and later became a police commander. His two brothers, Sammy and Yuli, bought merchant ships and tankers, expanded their fleet and spread their business over seas and continents.
Over the years the Ofer Brothers, reinforced by the family's next generation, became an influential force in the Israeli economy. In the Ofer family's business, the sale of a tanker for $8 million is a drop in the ocean, and the family chalks up the Americans' objections to a misunderstanding. But its alleged sale of a ship to Iran evokes bewilderment and embarrassment.
The questions arising from it should be addressed not only to the Ofer Brothers but to Israeli officials and institutions - the Prime Minister's Office; the ministers of defense, finance and foreign affairs; Military Intelligence, the Mossad and the navy. Where were they all when Israel was making a mockery of its own demands that the world fight Iran's military nuclearization?
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu portrays Iran as a threat to Israel's survival. He champions an economic siege on it, as a last resort before an attack. While Netanyahu likens Tehran's current rulers to Berlin's on the eve of World War II, his own shortcomings have enabled a major Israeli corporation to circumvent the sanctions and trade with a satanic foe.
True, the used-ship business is characterized by layers of brokers and the concealing of the owner's identity by flying another country's flag. But for some reason, when Israel confronts the Karin A, Victory and other vessels operating on the Iran-Hezbollah-Palestine line, it manages to discover what's hiding under the rug. But when it wants to make money, as in selling weapons to Iran during its war with Iraq, Israel knows how to close its eyes. The American suspiciousness is a natural outcome of this basic truth.
The Ofer family will try, with its lawyers and lobbyists, to settle its affairs with the administration in Washington, in a bid to remove the sanctions on the sanction breakers. But the Israeli authorities' defective performance in this affair necessitates a thorough investigation, either by the state comptroller or a subcommittee of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee.
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