'Why Not?': How Netanyahu Explained Flying Billionaire Friend in Military Chopper

TV news airs partial transcript of police interrogation of Netanyahu, suspected of accepting illicit gifts from wealthy friends

Benjamin Netanyahu (center) in 2016, flanked by Minister Gilad Erdan and then-Police Commissioner Roni Alsheich.
Emil Salman

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told police that he didn’t remember flying a billionaire friend to Jordan in a military helicopter, according to a transcript of his interrogation aired by Channel 12 television on Monday.

The interrogation was part of an investigation into suspicions that Netanyahu accepted illicit gifts from businessmen, among them Arnon Milchan, who he flew to Jordan. Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit has tentatively decided to indict him in this case, pending a hearing.

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When questioned by Brig. Gen. Coresh Barnoor, who headed the police’s fraud squad at the time, Netanyahu repeatedly said he didn’t remember the incident.

“You asked to arrange a helicopter to Jordan for Milchan?” Barnoor asked.

“I don’t remember, it’s possible,” Netanyahu replied. “I don’t remember.”

When Barnoor pressed him, he reiterated, “It seems you asked me once, and I told you it was possible.”

Later, Barnoor asked, “You okayed it to the army? To the Mossad?”

“It’s possible, it’s certainly possible,” Netanyahu replied.

“Is this standard practice?” Barnoor asked. “Why not?” Netanyahu replied.

“What do you mean why not?” Barnoor retorted. “He’s a private businessman!”

The helicopter ride was in the context of a proposal Milchan had made to set up an Israeli-Palestinian-Jordanian free trade zone together with the Indian conglomerate Tata. Later in the session, Netanyahu said he was indeed interested in the project and started to explain why.

“We talked about that, but why the helicopter?” Barnoor interrupted. “Do you usually organize helicopters for people?”

Later still, Netanyahu noted that major donors to Israel are typically given helicopter tours. Barnoor retorted that Milchan “didn’t come to donate to the country.”

“He did come to donate,” Netanyahu argued.

Soon afterward, Barnoor asked whether Netanyahu had ever arranged a helicopter for anyone else. Netanyahu insisted that he had, and Barnoor repeatedly demanded to know who. “I’ll remember,” Netanyahu said.

“Give it to me now,” Barnoor pressed him. “Remember now, not in another year.”

“Wait,” Netanyahu said. “I can’t remember … How do they put it? Such things have happened.”

“Give me one example,” Barnoor insisted.

“I don’t know, I’ll find one,” Netanyahu replied.

When Barnoor continued to press the issue, Netanyahu said, “Now I’ll tell you why I arranged a helicopter for them, if I arranged it.”

“You arranged it,” Barnoor responded.

Later, Barnoor asked, “Who did you arrange it from? From the army?” Netanyahu again replied that he didn’t remember.

“How do you do this?” Barnoor continued.

“I don’t remember, but I want to keep going for a moment about why I arranged a helicopter for him,” Netanyahu replied.

“To promote a deal,” Barnoor said.

“Listen carefully,” Netanyahu began, but Barnoor interrupted, “that helped both them and the country.”

“Bullshit!” Netanyahu said. “Wait a moment.”

When Barnoor let him explain, Netanyahu said, “Your theory doesn’t match the truth. Why? Because there’s a string of big things I believe in here … strengthening economic peace … as a vector for peace, and along comes someone who proposes a project that fits perfectly with the idea I believe in, a free trade area between Jordan, Israel and the Palestinians. I really like this! He’s also willing to invest in this …

“There’s an industrial element here that an Indian industrial giant is bringing, and I’m very interested in promoting this,” he continued. “It’s a national issue. I had no idea Milchan was involved. I have a supreme interest in India … Do you know what this would do for Israel?”

“Okay, we know,” Barnoor replied.

“No, no, no,” Netanyahu retorted. “You asked me why I’m doing this, what my vision is, why I’m doing this – this is why.”

“We were talking about the helicopter, sir!” Barnoor retorted.

“No! Listen up!” Netanyahu said. “You don’t…”

“You’re giving a speech now,” Barnoor interrupted.