A Former PM and ex-Mossad Chief Go Into Business

From the people who brought you the magic of the Second Lebanon War: an exciting new business venture!

Moti Milrod

The former prime minister of Israel, together with the former chief of staff and Israel’s former spy chief, announced last week that they are starting a company by the name of EOC Partners.

Seemingly, an ordinary announcement, one made by practically every former prime minister or senior politician in Israel upon leaving office. Their foreign counterparts do the same, opening consultancies that bank on their former glory and ever-present connections. Ehud Barak did it upon leaving politics in 2000, and upon re-retiring in 2013. Tony Blair, former prime minister of Britain, became a multi-millionaire through Tony Blair Associates. Not to mention how much Bill Clinton earns in lectures and consulting fees.

So why did the man in the Israeli street greet last week’s announcement, made by an all-star team composed of Ehud Olmert (former PM), Dan Halutz (former Israeli army chief of staff) and Meir Dagan (former Mossad head), with raised eyebrows?

Maybe it's because these three are the people who led Israel during the Second Lebanon War. Maybe it's because their names, in the case of Olmert and Halutz, will forever be tainted with the failure of Israel’s most mishandled war since Yom Kippur, 1973. Maybe it's because of their personal responsibility for this failure, ruled the Winograd Commission (the government committee that in 2007-2008 investigated the war and the preceding events).

Former politicians usually bank on their name and connections. This is nothing new. Some turn lobbyists, some get high-paying private sector jobs. The more senior open their own companies.

But when it comes to people associated with one of Israel’s most notorious military failures, some people feel a certain level of discomfort with them banking on their good names.

Or it could be that they carry around some seriously bad public karma. On top of the Lebanon War fiasco, Halutz will probably be remembered most as the Israeli army chief of staff who sold off his investment portfolio just hours after Hezbollah captured two Israeli soldiers, which triggered the war.

And then there’s Olmert. The former prime minister with a miasma of corruption charges following him around. He's been acquitted of most of the bribery, breach of trust and fraud charges but is still on trial in the HolyLand scandal, and now his longtime bureau chief and alleged accomplice, Shula Zaken, wants to turn state's witness. (So far the state has said no thanks.)

Israelis are a wee bit cynical when it comes to Olmert’s private endeavors. Given his endeavors as a public figure, it’s hard to blame them.

Then there's the question of what it does

The cynicism regarding his new venture might also have something to do with its obscure nature. What exactly does EOC Partners plan to do? Its registration form laconically allows the company to engage in “any lawful endeavor” - a line that is hard not to chuckle at, given the head founder - but its actual field remains shrouded in mystery.

Its founders – a fourth is Olmert’s former media adviser - refuse to elaborate on the nature of the new company, though most assume it’s a consultancy, most likely in the field of defense.

All this made Israelis very suspicious of Olmert and Co.’s new business venture. Olmert, Halutz and Dagan may be out of the civil service, but they are still public figures, often voicing their opinions on policy matters. In the case of Halutz and Dagan, they might be involved in politics in the future. Is it legitimate for them to use their connections, their influence and, perhaps most importantly, the knowledge they gained during their service, to enrich themselves?

The mystery about the company’s operations is probably gratuitous. Olmert and Co. are hardly likely to be developing social media apps. Their new company will do exactly what they’ve been doing through their other outlets in recent years, and what many others like them have been doing: using connections and “opening doors” for foreign and domestic interests, in Israel and abroad, and exporting Israeli defense expertise.

In the case of Olmert & Co., it’s just that these three are much more public than others who did it. But by offering their services as former movers and shakers to any big business who might want an ear among policy makers in Israel, the three send a very clear message about the nature of the “revolving door” in Israel, and about the monetization of political and military experience.

In Israel, that message states, politics and defense are just pit stops on the way to lucrative private riches. And if you join forces you can make three times as much.

Moti Milrod