Is the Israeli-Iranian Conflict Also Being Waged Over Money?

Over the past 20 years, Israel's disputed oil pipeline has been used as a unique communications channel between Israel and Iran.

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Employees of the Trans-Israel Pipeline clean up the large deposits of crude oil that gushed out of a breached pipeline north of Eilat, Friday, Dec. 5.Credit: AP

Articles by Avi Bar-Eli in this newspaper give a rare glimpse of what’s going on with the Eilat-Ashkelon Pipeline Company. The company was founded after the Six-Day War as a partnership between the governments of Israel and Iran, with the aim of transporting Iranian crude oil from Eilat to the Mediterranean coast for sale in Europe.

After Iran’s Islamic Revolution in 1979, relations between the countries were severed, but the company continued to operate and flourish on the strength of its government franchise, as it transported crude oil through its pipeline in the Negev and was a partner in the Dorad power station in Ashkelon. Under the cover of the military censor, EAPC became an enterprise for arranging jobs for the friends of those in government and former employees of the defense establishment. Exposure of this was possible solely because of the furor surrounding the oil leak from the company’s pipeline. Over the past 20 years, EAPC has been the grounds for a unique communications channel between Israel and Iran. Iran took Israel to arbitration in an effort to get back the fruits of its investment in the joint company, estimated in the hundreds of millions of dollars, if not billions. The proceedings in Europe have been moving forward slowly, but the Iranians have succeeded in forcing Israel into arbitration, and even won a preliminary award totaling tens of millions of dollars.

On Tuesday Bar-Eli revealed that Israel had asked the Swiss arbitrators to hide the identity of the countries involved in the process when it published their decision. The arbitrators expressed surprise at the request and slapped Israel with around a million shekels in court costs. Aside from the legal and financial damage caused to Israel, the request raises serious questions about the government’s motives for maintaining a veil of secrecy over the EAPC.

It’s hard to let go of the impression that the Netanyahu government feared the revelation of the arbitration process, which presents it as conducting business and legal proceedings with Iran. One can’t help but ask: Along with his concerns regarding the development of an Iranian nuclear bomb, is Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu worried about an arbitration ruling that would obligate Israel to pay Iran huge sums, and thus help finance its nuclear installations? Does Iran’s decision to pursue legal action against the “Little Satan” demonstrate that its leaders are capable of acting rationally? Is the Israeli-Iranian conflict, which reached the brink of war during Netanyahu’s term, being waged over money and not just over power and influence?

Instead of secrecy, the public deserves to have the censorship removed and to get explanations from Netanyahu about Israel’s real policies on Iran.

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