Search JTA's historical archive dating back to 1923

Knesset Panel Chairman Furious over Silence on Iranian Contacts

December 27, 1989
See Original Daily Bulletin From This Date

The Knesset’s Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, apparently convinced that Israel has been involved in an oil-for-hostages deal with Iran, is furious with the government for not informing lawmakers of the secret transaction.

The panel’s chairman, Eliahu Ben-Elissar of Likud, delivered a stern lecture on the subject during an appearance by Defense Minister Yitzhak Rabin.

Rabin denied to reporters afterward that there are now or have been “direct contacts between Israel and Iran.”

But Ben-Elissar spoke as if the transaction was a fact, regardless of the lack of official Israeli confirmation.

The matter surfaced when NBC News reported on Dec. 18 that Israel paid Iran $36 million for 2 million barrels of oil delivered to Eilat in November.

In addition, the network said, Israel offered to free “hundreds of Shi’ite prisoners,” including Sheik Abdel Karim Obeid, who was seized by Israeli commandos from his home in southern Lebanon last July.

In exchange, Israel would get back its soldiers held captive by pro-Iranian groups in Lebanon and other Western hostages could also be freed, NBC reported.

The NBC report said the United States had given its blessing to the deal, an assertion flatly denied by the State Department in Washington.


Ben-Elissar charged that the Israeli defense establishment deliberately withheld from the committee information about the oil deal with Iran and efforts to obtain the release of Israeli prisoners in Lebanon.

The information was withheld “despite an explicit commitment by the defense establishment at the time of Irangate that the subcommittee would be briefed on any contacts with the Iranians,” Ben-Elissar said.

“Irangate” is a term used to describe the scandal surrounding the Reagan administration’s sale of arms to Iran, with Israel’s help, in 1985.

“How can one accept that the committee hears of the deal on NBC?” Ben-Elissar asked.

“In the past, we had always received full information on negotiations regarding prisoners and missing persons, and if this suddenly stops, it calls for answers,” he told reporters.

“The Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee will not be able to fulfill its duty if the government does not keep it up-to-date,” he said.

“After all, it is not the government which decides what it is permitted to report to the Knesset, but the Knesset decides what the government must report,” Ben-Elissar added.

Rabin commented that “By their very nature, the issues necessitate full discretion.”

Rabin also discussed with the committee the strengthened ties between Egypt and Syria, which he viewed favorably from Israel’s perspective.

Because of the New Year’s Day holiday, JTA will not publish the Daily News Bulletin on Tuesday, Jan. 2.

Recommended from JTA