Netanyahu: Revealing Pay for Lawyers in Iran Oil Case Will 'Harm National Security'

Government refuses to provide any information on proceedings in long-running dispute about old oil partnership, even though the Iranians know all about the arbitration and participants.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu peers over his glasses at the weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem, November 29, 2015
Reuters

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu believes that revealing information on the compensation paid to the arbitrators and lawyers representing Israel in the long-running “oil arbitration” legal case between Israel and Iran could harm Israel’s national security and its foreign relations.

Netanyahu signed a confidentiality order to block a petition filed by Haaretz, based on the Freedom of Information Law, asking to release information on the compensation paid to the arbitrators and lawyers, now headed by attorney Avigdor “Dori” Klagsbald.

For more than 30 years, Israel has been entwined in various legal proceedings and arbitration hearings with the National Iranian Oil Company (NIOC), which is suing for its share of profits from the Israeli-Iranian partnership that operated before the Iranian revolution in 1979. It operated through the Eilat-Ashkelon Pipeline Company, a government company that worked under the cloak of secrecy after its establishment in 1968.

Over the years, the Iranian firm has filed three arbitration cases against Israel, directly against the state and shell companies that Israel controls, seeking compensation worth billions of dollars. Israel lost the first two cases but has refused to pay, arguing that Iran is an enemy state. The third arbitration process is still being heard.

Klagsbald has represented Israel in the case since 2002, and his appointment has been widely publicized.

Last year, Haaretz filed a request with the Finance and Justice ministries under the Freedom of Information Law, in order to receive information on the amounts paid by the government to the arbitrators and attorneys involved. It also asked for the identity of the government body that is supervising the arbitrators and lawyers, and an answer to the question of whether, after the legal decisions against Israel, the government was reconsidering its arrangements with the lawyers.

The request was rejected, on the grounds of “fear of damaging Israel’s national security, foreign relations, public security or the well-being or safety” of various persons.

The refusal to provide information was far-reaching, even though the arbitration process and the identity of its participants are well-known to the Iranian side, which has appointed as its representative Mohsen Agha Hosseini, a former judge at the International Court of Justice in The Hague. Agha Hosseini was on friendly terms with his Israeli counterparts and would eat lunch with them after arbitration hearings.

Haaretz appealed the ministry’s decision not to provide the information at the Jerusalem District Court, and the government once again refused to provide the information – citing the confidentiality order signed by Netanyahu. Judge Dr. Yigal Mersel granted the state’s request to deny the appeal. Haaretz has not yet decided whether to appeal this decision to the Supreme Court.