ARNON MILCHAN holds his arms around Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie, who starred in ‘Mr. & Mrs. Smith,’ a film he co-produced, at its premiere in Los Angeles in 2005..
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Before it was disclosed on Sunday that Yediot Aharonot publisher Noni – short for Arnon Mozes – was the Israeli mystery man involved in corruption allegations against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, there was another important Arnon who, according to media reports, was intricately involved.
His name is Arnon Milchan – familiar to movie buffs as one of the most prolific motion-picture producers in Hollywood.
In fact, although he has lived in the US for around 40 years, Milchan is no less Israeli than Mozes. Milchan, 72, was born in Rehovot in 1944. He began displaying business acumen in his early 20s after his father died and left him with a debt-ridden fertilizer company that the young Milchan turned around to build into a successful chemical concern.
In the first three decades of the state, many Israelis who wanted solid academic qualifications enrolled at the London School of Economics. Milchan followed suit, and on his return home was recruited by none other than Shimon Peres as an agent for LAKAM, the Hebrew acronym for Halishka Lekishrei Mada – the Bureau for Scientific Relations.
In essence, Milchan was a spy who ferreted scientific information useful to the young nation’s defense programs and projects.
LAKAM ceased operations in 1987, 10 years after Milchan started making a name for himself in Hollywood.
He was also rumored to be involved in arms trading. This became more than a rumor when an unauthorized biography was published in 2011, and when authors Meir Doron and Joseph Gelman continued to reveal a lot more than had previously been known in interviews and in a Confidential Magazine article.
Milchan became entrenched in the Hollywood movie industry, which was and remains his great passion. His other passion, aside from a very valuable art collection, is Israeli politics.
Always a keen admirer of Shimon Peres – after whom he named one of his four children – Milchan nonetheless had friends and close acquaintances along all points of the political spectrum.
In addition to his house in Malibu, where Netanyahu and his wife attended a glittering party some three years ago, Milchan owns a home in Herzliya, where over the years he hosted Peres, Ehud Olmert, Isaac Herzog and Netanyahu, along with other political figures.
Some media reports have stated that he regularly plied Netanyahu with expensive cigars, and Sara Netanyahu with bottles of pink champagne.
Some reports have alleged that Milchan wanted Netanyahu to put in a good word with United States Secretary of State John Kerry to guarantee his ability to continue living and working in the US.
With US casino magnate Sheldon Adelson – one of the richest men in the world – as his patron, Netanyahu would not necessarily make nice to other people of affluence unless he genuinely liked them.
Friends and acquaintances in both Israel and the US considered Milchan somewhat of a mystery man. People were unsure whether there was any truth to stories about his espionage activities. But in November 2013, when interviewed by Ilana Dayan on her Channel 2 program Fact, he admitted the stories were true, saying: “Do you know what it means to be 20-something and your state gives you the opportunity to play James Bond? Wow, that’s action! It’s exhilarating.”
Peres also had no qualms about admitting that he brought Milchan into LAKAM – the same espionage agency to which Jonathan Pollard passed classified material.
Peres and Milchan kept up their relationship, and when Peres – as minister for development of the Negev and the Galilee – dreamed up the establishment of a Galilee University, Milchan happily contributed $100 million to the project.
Milchan is believed to have been a political broker prior to the Knesset election of 2006 and again during the most recent election.