Report: Israel Police Investigating Mossad Chief's Ties With Netanyahu's Billionaire Friend

Details emerge after Haaretz investigation revealed Arnon Milchan and Australian billionaire James Packer tried to recruit Yossi Cohen as a partner in a cybersecurity firm they planned to set up.

Mossad Director Yossi Cohen observes Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during a Knesset committee meeting in December, 2015.
Mossad Director Yossi Cohen observes Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during a Knesset committee meeting in December, 2015. Olivier Fitoussi

Ties between Mossad Chief Yossi Cohen and movie producer Arnon Milchan, whose alleged bestowing of expensive gifts on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is now the subject of a police investigation, started as early as 2000, according to a Walla report on Wednesday.

Over the past 15 years, Cohen reportedly met Arnon Milchan dozens of times, both in Israel and abroad. Milchan was granted a place in Cohen's inner circle when he was still head of Israel's National Security Council under Netanyahu, Walla said. In 2015, the prime minister appointed Cohen to head the Mossad.

A number of the reported meetings between Cohen and Milchan occurred in Los Angeles, where Cohen was sent by then Mossad Chief Meir Dagan to discuss the production of a movie about the secretive Israeli agency.

Cohen's appointment as Mossad director by Netanyahu in December 2015 over two other candidates, including the deputy Mossad director, came as something of a surprise and was announced after an hour's delay, during which speculation was rife that Netanyahu was being pressured by external sources.

According to a recent report on Channel 2's "Uvda," Netanyahu called the deputy Mossad chief hours before announcing his decision, and asked if he would be loyal to him as Mossad director. The candidate reportedly told Netanyahu that he would do everything within his ability to serve the country. The prime minister announced shortly after that Cohen, who had always been considered close to Netanyahu, would fill the position.

Arnon Milchan and Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem in 2005.
David Silverman/Getty Images

Cohen's ties with Milchan may be more complex than friendly conversations and plans for Mossad-based Hollywood blockbusters. Detailed in a Haaretz investigation published earlier on Tuesday, Milchan, along with Australian billionaire James Packer, tried to recruit Cohen as partner in a cyber security firm they planned to set up, while the two billionaires were involved in a global security firm, Blue Sky International (BSI).

Evidence obtained by Haaretz about the security firm BSI describes a very close relationship between Netanyahu and Milchan. This was reflected in what one source described as a “more than direct line” to the prime minister. “He would pull him out from anywhere, at any time, on any occasion.”

In the end, Cohen was appointed Mossad chief and never joined the company. BSI eventually closed and Packer's reported $15 million investment in the firm was returned.

Both Packer and Milchan are suspected of giving Netanyahu hundreds of thousands of shekels worth of gifts like cigars and pink champagne - the centerpiece of just one of the criminal investigations underway involving the prime minister.

Packer also reportedly followed Milchan's lead and became friendly with Cohen, giving him tickets to a Mariah Carey concert worth thousands of shekels. This revelation prompted the Civil Service Commission to open an investigation to determine whether or not the gift was illegal.

The Australian is reportedly very interested in obtaining Israeli citizenship or permanent-resident status that could allow him to take advantage of major tax benefits. 

Unlike Milchan, however, Packer is neither Israeli-born nor Jewish, which makes it more difficult for him to qualify.

 According to reports, Packer has already turned to former deputy head of the Israel Tax Authority, Ze'ev Feldman, to help him achieve this end.