The Israeli media usually takes scant interest in Robert Mueller’s investigations. It prefers to dwell on Donald Trump’s supposedly pro-Israeli policies. Last week’s report in the New York Times about the participation of Joel Zamel, the Australian-born “Israeli specialist in social media manipulation,” in an August 3, 2016 meeting at Trump Tower in New York was an exception to the rule. The FBI, the Times reported, had even come to Israel to search the offices of Zamel’s company. Here was a direct Israeli link to the scandal that has bewitched much of America since Trump was first elected.
The moment of fleeting interest was followed up by a report, published by Walla! News, that another Israeli-based company called Inspiration, run by former IDF intelligence officers, had been employed by a super PAC that supported Trump’s election. The report alleged that after retiring from the race, Housing Secretary and then-candidate Ben Carson personally presented Trump with Inspiration’s plan for voter manipulation in swing states. A source in the company told Walla! that Inspiration had received “enormous amounts” of information from the Super PAC, which it then used to compose strategies and slogans that would elevate Trump and “float all kinds of things” about Hillary Clinton.
The two separate cases of Israeli involvement fed into sometimes anti-Semitic conspiracy theories that seek to place Israel on the same level as Russia in its intervention in the 2016 presidential elections. In Israel’s case, however, there is no indication or allegation of direct government involvement or of Mueller’s interest. Nonetheless, beyond Zamel and Inspiration, a disturbing number of the main players implicated so far in Mueller’s investigation, many of them of Russian origin, have a direct link to Israel in their past or present.
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There could be myriad reasons for the preponderance of actors with ties to Israel. In recent years, Israeli political strategists have developed an international reputation for election campaigns; many are employed by foreign political parties. Israeli intelligence services have certainly developed an expertise in psychological warfare; both Zamel and Inspiration are said to have employed former intelligence officers. And an estimated 10-15 percent of the million or so Russian immigrants who came to Israel from the 1970s onwards are known to have used the country as a way station to immigrate to the United States and other Western countries – but not before picking up Israeli citizenship, which remains with them for life. These included so-called Russian oligarchs, some of whom made their fortunes on the wrong side of the law.
Nonetheless, there is no denying that Benjamin Netanyahu’s government was overjoyed at Trump’s election – if not before the fact, then certainly after. According to reports published in November and December of last year, Mueller is investigating lobbying efforts made in December 2016, before Trump’s inauguration, by former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn and presidential adviser Jared Kushner against the Obama administration’s intention to refrain from vetoing UN Security Council Resolution 2334, which condemned Jewish settlements in the occupied territories. Flynn’s indictment included an admission that he had lied to the FBI about his approach to Russia’s U.S. Ambassador Sergei Kislyak to delay the Security Council vote.
And while no direct link has been established, there was certainly a confluence of views and interests in the recently uncovered efforts by the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Saudi Arabia to assist Trump’s campaign. According to the New York Times, in the August 2016 meeting at Trump Tower, the UAE representative, George Nader, told Donald Trump Jr. and other participants that Obama had left a “power vacuum” in the Middle East. The report also states that Nader had concocted a secret plan to destabilize the Iranian regime, an objective now being pursued, despite their denials, by both Israel and the United States.
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The question of whether the Israeli involvement was merely coincidental or an indication of something more sinister could become clearer if and when Mueller presents his findings. In the meantime, here is a necessarily incomplete catalog of the numerous Israeli connections to some of the people named so far in Mueller’s probe:
* George Nader, the convicted pedophile who worked on behalf of UAE, is a Lebanese businessman who has worked for decades in the shadows of Middle East diplomacy. He has often been accused in the Arab press of being an agent for the Mossad. In the 1980s, Nader reportedly mediated between Israel and Lebanon. At the same time, he established the journal Middle East Insight, which often arranged meetings in Washington between Israelis and Arabs. In July, 1996, Nader hosted Netanyahu shortly after his first election as prime minister. This video shows both on the same stage.
Two years later, Nader forged even closer ties with Netanyahu and his bureau: he served as Ronald Lauder’s assistant in the cosmetic tycoon’s failed efforts to secure a peace deal between Netanyahu and Syria's president at the time, Hafez Assad. Netanyahu’s advisers have acknowledged their contacts with Nader, who is said to have been especially close to Dore Gold, the prime minister’s aide and former UN ambassador.
* Nader’s partner in representing the UAE – and in pressing Trump to take a hard line on Qatar – was Elliott Broidy, the Los Angeles venture capitalist and GOP fundraiser. Broidy made headlines in recent weeks for his lucrative lobbying efforts on behalf of the UAE, which included two personal meetings with Trump, as well as for his alleged role in Trump lawyer Michael Cohen’s payment of $1.6 million to former Playboy Playmate Shera Bechard. Many commentators assume that it was Trump who actually had an affair with Bechard and got her pregnant, with Broidy volunteering to serve as his cover.
Broidy also has a long history with Israel in general and Netanyahu in particular. Together with Sheldon Adelson, he is a prominent member of the board of directors of the Republican Jewish Coalition, which has taken hawkish positions on the Iran nuclear deal and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Fifteen years ago, Broidy set up Markstone Capital Group which operated in Israel, investing in Israeli companies and attracting Israeli investors. In 2003, then-Finance Minister Netanyahu took credit for convincing the New York State pension fund to invest $250 million in Markstone. It later emerged that Broidy’s bribes to former New York State Comptroller and now-convicted felon Alan Hevesi also played a role in the pension fund’s largesse. By the time Broidy pled guilty to a misdemeanor after cooperating with Hevesi’s investigators in 2012, Markstone's Israeli branch had essentially collapsed, taking with it the many Israelis' investments.
* In January 2017, Nader took part in a meeting in Seychelles, which is also being probed by Mueller. In attendance were Erik Prince, Trump confidante, brother of Education Secretary Betsy Devos and founder of the security company Blackwater, as well as Kirill Dmitriev, CEO of the Russian government’s sovereign wealth fund Russia Direct Investment Fund. Dmitriev's fund has in recent months been negotiating with Israeli government ministers on a $100 million project to open Israeli-run dairies in Russia.
* Russian lawyer Natalya Veselnitskaya, who features in the June 2016 meeting at Trump Tower, in which she is alleged to have offered damaging information on Hillary Clinton, represented Prevezon Holdings Ltd. in the money laundering case brought forth by former New York Southern District Attorney Preet Bharara. After Bharara was dismissed by Trump, Prevezon was allowed to pay a $6 million fine in May 2017 to avoid criminal prosecution. The owner of Prevezon is Denis Katsyv, another Israeli citizen, whose father Pyotr was a high municipal official in Moscow. In 2005, the same Katsyv reached a similar settlement with Israeli authorities, paying a fine of 35 million shekels after being indicted for money laundering at a Tel Aviv branch of Bank Hapoalim. The Cyprus-registered Prevezon was managed for a while by a Tel Aviv lawyer, who also represented the Russian Embassy in Tel Aviv.
* Katsyv partnered with the Dutch branch of Africa-Israel Ltd., which belongs to Russian-Israeli diamond and real estate mogul Lev Leviev. Leviev’s apartments in New York were alleged to have served as a conduit for Prevezon’s money laundering. In 2015, Leviev sold four stories of the old New York Times building in Manhattan to Jared Kushner for $295 million, secured through a loan from Deutsche Bank, which is also being probed by Mueller.
* Leviev and Roman Abramovich, the billionaire owner of Chelsea Football Club who has recently run into visa problems with British authorities, teamed up in 1999 to set up the Federation of Jewish Communities in Russia (FOR). They were responding to a request by Vladimir Putin to set up a group that would rival the Russian Jewish Congress, headed by Israeli-Russian oligarch Vladimir Gusinsky, who was close to former Russian President Boris Yeltsin. The head of the FOR is Italian-Russian Chabad Rabbi Berel Lazar. In April 2017, Politico alleged that Chabad and FOR were used by the Kremlin as conduits for their efforts to influence the U.S. elections. The report was denied and even dismissed as anti-Semitic. Interestingly, a BBC story published this week about payments made to Michael Cohen by Ukraine in order to secure a long White House meeting with Trump for Ukrainian leader Petro Poroshenko notes that the approach to Trump’s lawyer was made through attendees at a Chabad function in Port Washington, New York.
* Mueller is also said to be investigating connections between Russian oligarchs and Trump’s businesses in the years before he became president. One such partner in Trump’s failed Soho tower was the late Israeli-Georgian tycoon Tamir Sapir. In 2007, Trump hosted the wedding of Sapir’s daughter, Zina, with Rotem Rosen, then the director of the North American branch of Leviev’s Africa-Israel. The same year, Netanyahu listed Sapir as one of the potential donors to his Likud primary campaign in a handwritten note uncovered by the Yedioth Aharonoth daily.
* Another partner in the Soho project, and possibly the architect of Trump’s ties to Russia, was Felix Sater, who worked closely with Cohen. Sater is also an Israeli citizen, having passed through the country on his way to the United States with his father Mikhail, whom the FBI has named as a lieutenant for Russia mafia kingpin Sergei Mogilevich. Mogilevich came to Israel in 1990 and lived there for a few years. According to press reports, Mogilevich participated in a 1995 meeting of Ukrainian master criminals convened in Tel Aviv by another Russian oligarch with a shady reputation, Boris Birshtein. After several years in Israel, Birshtein left the country for Canada, after learning that he had turned into a target of the Israeli police. Subsequently, he partnered with Trump in a building project in Toronto.
* Mueller is also said to be investigating a $150,000 contribution to Trump’s inaugural committee, in which Broidy played an active role, made by another Ukrainian billionaire, Victor Pinchuk. Cohen, it is alleged, was the middleman. Pinchuk is a significant contributor to religious institutions in Israel, but is also well connected to its politicians. In 2008 he served as co-chairman of the Israeli Presidential Conference convened in Jerusalem by the late Shimon Peres.
* Another purported target of Mueller's investigation is Viktor Vekselberg, a Russian oligarch with investments in Israel, for payments allegedly made to Michael Cohen. Vekselberg partnered with Israeli-Russian billionaires Len Blavatnik, who is invested in Israeli media, connected to Netanyahu and is also under Mueller’s spotlight, as well as Russian-Israeli billionaire Mikhail Fridman. One of their joint holdings was Alfa Bank, which, according to the Steele Dossier, owned a mysterious internet server found in Trump Tower. Fridman is also the main contributor to the Genesis Prize, in which Netanyahu regularly plays a prominent role, and which featured recently in the brouhaha surrounding Natalie Portman’s decision to decline the prize after she had earlier accepted it.