A company initially set up to transport oil from Iran to Israel is to continue to operate secretly, the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee ruled Sunday, with anyone breaching the gag order subject to a 15-year jail sentence, Calcalist news site reported.
The Knesset committee ruled that the workings of the Eilat-Ashkelon Pipeline Co (EAPC), which is not subject to most of Israel’s laws including taxation or building regulations, will remain under the military censor. In addition, a new company controlled by the government with the same name, known as EAPC-B, will also be run in secrecy, though the latter will be subject somewhat to Israeli law, including liability for taxes.
The penalty for leaking secrets of the company was set at a maximum of 15 years in prison.
The EAPC was originally set up in 1968, during the War of Attrition, when the Suez Canal was threatened by Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser.
At that time, Iran supplied much of Israel’s oil, but did so secretly to avoid creating tension with Arab countries. Oil was shipped from Iran via the Red Sea to Israel’s Eilat port. From there, a pipeline took it to the port of Ashkelon, where it could be shipped to the Mediterranean, thus avoiding the need to take it through Suez Canal.
Following the 1979 Islamic Revolution, this deal ended, but the company, run solely by Israel, continued to operate in secrecy, transporting oil to Europe.
It was only following a leak in the pipeline in 2014, after some 5 million liters of crude oil polluted the Arava desert and the Evrona Nature reserve, and, following petitions to remove the cloud of secrecy surrounding the company, that the court stepped in and ordered the company to temporarily halt operations.
According to the EAPC website, the company currently operates 750 kilometers (466 miles) of pipeline in Israel.
In 2016, a Swiss court determined that Israel owed Iran $1.2 billion (NIS 4.18 billion) in compensation for ending the joint project. Israel had claimed that compensation had been calculated incorrectly but that claim was rejected. Israel was also ordered to pay Iran $208,000 (some NIS 723,700) for legal fees.
The court also reportedly determined that since the lifting of international sanctions against Iran, there were no legal obstacles to Israel sending payment to Iran.
The Finance Ministry said at the time that it would refuse to send any money to Iran, noting that, “under the laws of trade, we cannot transfer funds to an enemy country.”