The Ofer Brothers Group may be scurrying into damage control in Israel, Singapore, London and Washington, after the United States blacklisted it for trading with Iran, but Israel seems to be doing nothing to enforce international sanctions on Iran.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who endlessly preaches the need for firm action against Iran to prevent it from acquiring nuclear arms, is not lifting a finger to stop Israeli companies and individuals indirectly trading with Iran.
Nor is he acting against international companies and corporations that operate in Iran, while maintaining huge contracts with Israeli companies - including state bodies like the Electric Corporation and Airport Authority.
This incompetence, bordering on grave deficiency, is causing severe damage to the image of both Israel and its prime minister.
The situation raises questions about Israel's intelligence community, headed by the Mossad, which seems oblivious to what is going on in Israel. This community is in charge of thwarting Iran's nuclear plan by any means, including locating companies worldwide that trade with Iran and help its nuclear program.
At least 200 international companies operating in Israel maintain extensive trade ties with Iran. These ties include investments in the Iranian energy industry, which is Iran's main income source and serves to funnel funds to develop missiles, the nuclear program and other unconventional weapons.
In 2008 Israel enacted legislation prohibiting Israeli companies from investing in such corporations. But so far the government has done nothing to enforce it. Even after the Israel Electric Corp. and the Israeli Airports Authority purchased hundreds of millions of dollars worth of equipment from Danish and German companies operating in Iran, and after Haaretz reported it, Israel still did nothing.
Dr. Uzi Arad, until recently head of the National Security Council, said in response to a query from Haaretz that the issue is not within his jurisdiction and referred us to the Finance Ministry. But the Finance Ministry has also done nothing.
Yesterday it transpired that the company at the center of the storm involving the Ofer Brothers' alleged trade with Iran is the Singapore-based Tanker Pacific, one of the world's largest shipping companies. It operates a fleet of 45 huge tankers that transport crude oil worldwide, with branches in India, Britain and China. Its chairman and CEO is the British Alastair McGregor.
Company spokesman Edward Ion refused to give Haaretz details about the company's full ownership and legal structure but confirmed, in a telephone conversation from Singapre, that the company is "owned by the Ofer Brothers Group."
Tanker Pacific purchased the tanker Raffles Park in 2000. Until it was sold in September 2010, the tanker carried crude oil under a Liberian flag. Liberia gives ships the right to use its flag to hide their real ownership, as is customary in the shipping business, in exchange for foreign currency.
The tanker was sold for $8.65 million, a relatively low price, in a deal brokered by the Monegasque company Shipping Brokerage Associated. This company located the Coral Light Corporation of Panama company, registered in Panama, which ended up under ownership of the company Crystal Shipping of Sharjah. Sharjah is a small emirate in the Persian Gulf.
Crystal Shipping was the company that bought the Ofer Brothers' tanker. Another company registered in Dubai, called Noah Ship Management, provides managing services for the purchased tanker.
The U.S. State Department said on Tuesday that several companies involved in the deal served as a "front," to hide the fact that Iran's national shipping company - the Islamic Republic of Iran Shipping Lines - was behind it.
This shipping company appears on the UN Security Council's blacklisted corporations. It is forbidden to trade with these corporations because of their involvement in transporting equipment and materials for Iran's missile and nuclear programs.
Dubai is also seen as a major operation base for Iran's Revolutionary Guards, which built branches and offices there under fictitious names to hide their identity.
In the past, Dubai acted against companies that were discovered to be associated with Iran and its missile and nuclear programs.
Spokespeople for the Ofer Brothers Group and Tanker Pacific said yesterday they did not know the sale was carried out for Iran's shipping company, stressing they had acted in good faith.
They said it was the broker's - the Monegasque company - responsibility to check the buyer's identity.
The Ofer Brothers are making efforts through their lawyers in Singapore and Washington to meet American officials in a bid to persuade them the administration had made a mistake and to remove them from the black list.