Knesset Panel to Mull Bill Banning Iran Trade Ties in Wake of Ofer Affair

New bill, initiated by Likud MK Carmel Shama-Hacohen, would punish those found guilty of Iran ties with one year in prison, NIS 5 million fine.

The Ministerial Committee for Legislation is expected to discuss Sunday a bill that would forbid Israeli firms from engaging in business transactions with Iran, amid the ongoing controversy concerning the Ofer Brothers Group's purported links to Iran trade.

The discussion comes in the wake of recent comments by former Mossad chief Meir Dagan, who said on Wednesday that he felt the Ofers did not break any law when they allowed subsidiary shipping companies to dock their tankers in Iranian ports.

Ofer Brothers tankers

A source speaking with Haaretz later Wednesday indicated that the Ofer Brothers Group, amid widespread criticism of its Iran deals, instructed all ships under its ownership not to dock in Iranian ports as early as last year.

That comment was the first indication of such instructions from the Ofer family, serving as an indirect implication that ships in their possession have in fact docked in Iranian ports before.

The Ofers were recently named in a U.S. State Department report for commercial dealings with Iranian shipping interests.

In wake of allegations made against the Ofers, and of Dagan's comments, the Ministerial Committee for Legislation is to discuss a bill that would penalize Israeli firms with business ties to the Islamic Republic.

According to the new bill, those found guilty of trade ties with Iran could be sent to one year in prison, as well as being fined NIS 5 million, or three times the expected profit from the deals.

"A state which invests billions in the military and diplomatic front [against Iran] must complete a simple and necessary legislation," the bill's initiator MK Carmel Shama-Hacohen said.

Shama-Hacohen added that in light of the "sensitive aspects of the affair, there's a need to have the discussion in a forum that would enable parliamentary supervision and fact-checking."

The Likud MK was the target of scathing Knesset criticism on Wednesday, after he had abruptly closed a session concerning the Ofer affar only 15 minutes after commencing it without providing an explanation.

Knesset officials have clarified that there were no security of economical reasons to terminate the debate.

Comments were also made Thursday regarding criticism hurled at Dagan's remarks concerning the destructive effect an Israeli strike on Iran would have, with Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee member MK Nachman Shai saying he proposed that the "ministers listen very carefully to the man, instead of rolling over Dagan in order to shut his mouth."

"If the man who knows how to keep silence decided to talk, it is a signal that enough's enough," Shai added.

Former deputy Shin Bet chief MK Yoel Hasson also commented on Dagan's remarks, saying: "Since I know and respect the man, I don’t suspect him as being motivated by a hunger for publicity."

"Since he has no problem to 'whisper in the ear' of decision makers, then his remarks should be seen as criticizing the leadership and a real concern in regards to their policies," Hasson said, adding that "otherwise there would be no explanation to his comments."

On the other hand, MK Otniel Schneller was critical of Dagan's remarks, saying that it was appropriate for "those retiring from top security establishment positions show more restraint in remarks concerning what was until lately their field of work."

"The public-political motivation some seem to express immediately following their retirement injures the balance of public opinion," Schneller said, adding that Dagan's remarks removed any doubt as to the need of a "cooling-off" period between those officials' retirement and a prospective political career.