Israeli Minister Calls for Disclosing Details of Oil Negotiations With Iran

Uri Ariel spoke up as cabinet extended secrecy order for Eilat-Ashkelon Pipeline Company.

An Iranian oil worker rides his bicycle at the Tehran's oil refinery south of the capital Tehran, Iran, Dec. 22, 2014.
AP

The cabinet on Sunday extended the secrecy order regarding the activity of the Eilat Ashkelon Pipeline Company consortium. The revised order is designed to conceal information that is liable to weaken Israel’s position in the arbitration suit brought against it by the National Iranian Oil Company, which was a partner to the launching of the initiative 50 years ago.

The discussion in the cabinet meeting about the confidentiality order, which was supposed to be merely technical and to conclude with a vote within a few minutes, turned into a debate about the necessity of the order. Agriculture Minister Uri Ariel (Habayit Hayehudi) claimed at the meeting that based on his familiarity with the issue from the period when he served as chair of the State Control Committee, there is no justification for imposing confidentiality on the activity of the EAPC, and the information about the Iranian arbitration suit should be made public.

Ariel said at the meeting that he believes the identity of those working on behalf of the government in the arbitration process, which has been taking place in Switzerland for years, should be publicized. He added that the argument that continued secrecy is necessary for reasons of security is unacceptable.

“During my time on the State Control Committee I was not 100 percent privy to the EAPC issue, but I saw enough things that prove the saying that ‘sunlight is said to be the best of disinfectants,’” said Ariel in a conversation with Haaretz. “The names of the people involved should be published. There’s no sufficient reason why that should be confidential. In the name of that confidentiality unkosher things are being done, and that’s an understatement.”

Ariel also remarked that the confidentiality order often turns out to be irrelevant and absurd in light of the fact that the other parties involved in the arbitration publicize information on the subject. “If you’re a diligent journalist or simply a person who likes to surf on Google you discover that everything appears there – whether [publicized] by the Iranians or by the Swiss. It’s not things that are really secret,” he said. “In my opinion, based on things that I saw years ago, there’s no justification for it – it’s superfluous [to claim that it’s being done] in the name of security.”

At the cabinet meeting Ariel was opposed by Likud ministers Yuval Steinitz, who in the past served as finance minister and was in charge of the EAPC, Miri Regev, who was the Israel Defense Forces’ military censor, and Ofir Akunis, who handled the issue of the EAPC after the ecological disaster resulting from an oil leak in the Arava, near Eilat. The three claimed that the arbitration suit is a sensitive negotiating process and should remain secret.

Ariel turned to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and said cynically that if the subject is so secret, the discussion and vote on the issue should be transferred from the full cabinet to the political-security cabinet. Netanyahu reacted enthusiastically to Ariel’s barb and said: “We’ll make the decision about the confidentiality order now and conduct an extensive discussion on the subject in the [security] cabinet.”

The new order was written after a series of reports in Haaretz about the arbitration, and a petition submitted to the High Court of Justice by Adam Teva V’Din, the Israel Union for Environmental Defense, in a demand to revoke the confidentiality of the EAPC activity in the wake of the 2014 oil spill.

The updated version revokes the secrecy from environmental issues, planning and construction, licensing businesses and the EAPC subsidiary for infrastructure services, which is a partner in the Dorad private power station. It increases the confidentiality of “the identity of the shareholders, the businesses in the oil industry, the worth and the management style” of the EAPC and the two straw companies registered in Panama that belong to the consortium – Trans-Asiatic Oil and the Eilat Corporation. These issues are at the heart of the arbitration, in which the Iranians are demanding their share of the fruits of the partnership in addition to compensation from Israel, which they claim nationalized the EAPC.

The new order will go into effect after being approved in the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee.