Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told police investigators he helped one of his former close advisers straighten out his U.S. visa problems the same way he later assisted Israeli billionaire Arnon Milchan with the same problem, Haaretz has learned.
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Netanyahu made the claim about his former national security adviser, Uzi Arad, during his questioning by police over two corruption cases.
Arad was once considered one of Netanyahu’s most loyal and trusted confidants. Over the past two years, though, he has become one of his harshest critics.
It seems Netanyahu cited Arad’s situation to demonstrate that the actions he took on Milchan’s behalf – to help the Israeli businessman renew his 10-year visa to the United States – was in no way unusual. However, in Milchan’s case, the suspicions against Netanyahu don’t stem from his intervention on Milchan’s behalf but from the fact Netanyahu’s actions were seemingly a conflict of interest – helping someone who also allegedly provided Netanyahu and his wife with lavish gifts on a regular basis (including expensive cigars, champagne and jewelry).
After the news broke, Arad told Israeli radio that "Netanyahu understands the fundamental difference between what he did [for me and what he did for Milchan].
"Milchan was a private citizen whose business interests are private but who is close to Netanyahu. I was appointed to an official position and needed a diplomatic passport to fulfill the post."
Arad also said that while Netnayahu interceded personally in Milchan's case, talking directly to Kerry and others, in his own case Netanyahu intervened through a third party. "When I was done with my positions, I returned the passport and diplomatic visa," Arad added.
In 2013, the U.S. government declined to renew Milchan’s long-term residency visa after he was interviewed on the Israeli television show “Uvda” (Fact) and told of his contributions to the Israeli nuclear program.
Raviv Drucker reported on Channel 10 that because of this refusal to renew Milchan’s visa, Netanyahu used his connections at the highest levels of the U.S. administration to help Milchan. For example, Netanyahu asked then-Secretary of State John Kerry and U.S. Ambassador to Israel Dan B. Shapiro to intervene, and in the end Milchan’s visa was renewed and he was able to continue living in California.
Now Netanyahu says such an action was nothing exceptional, and in 2007 the United States informed Arad he had been refused an entry visa because he was a “security risk.”
U.S. authorities were concerned that Arad had been involved in the investigation into the American Israel Public Affairs Committee and Larry Franklin on suspicions of spying for Israel. In the so-called “AIPAC espionage affair,” Franklin – a former Department of Defense employee – was convicted of passing documents concerning Iraq and Iran to senior AIPAC officials, who then passed them onto Israel. While two AIPAC officials were indicted, the charges were later dropped.
The U.S. government also suspected that Franklin had contacts with Arad, who served in the Mossad for over two decades. Today, Arad is a professor at the Interdisciplinary Center in Herzliya and chairman of the Center for Strategic Studies at Tel Aviv University.
Franklin pled guilty to a number of espionage-related charges and was sentenced to nearly 13 years in prison. However, because of his cooperation with prosecutors – and the dropping of charges against the AIPAC officials – his sentence was reduced and he ultimately served only a few months.
Starting in 2007, Arad made a number of unsuccessful attempts to receive a U.S. visa. In 2009, when Netanyahu returned to the Prime Minister’s Office, he named Arad as his national security adviser and his visa to the United States was restored – though it seems only after Netanyahu intervened with senior U.S. officials.
Last week, Arad said that when he was appointed national security adviser and before his first official trip to Washington in that capacity, his office spoke to the U.S. Consulate on the matter, and at the same time Netanyahu asked former Shin Bet security services Director Yuval Diskin to solve Arad’s visa problem at a meeting the latter held with his American counterparts.
The police officers investigating the extravagant gifts recently asked Arad to testify about his visa, a source involved in the investigation told Haaretz.
The case also includes other incidents in which Netanyahu allegedly tried to advance Milchan’s business interests, including the purchase of a large portion of the ownership of the former Channel 2, as well as intervening in the affairs of Channel 10 (in which Milchan was a part owner), and for a joint business initiative between Milchan and his Indian partner Ratan Tata.