A big-shot Hollywood producer who for decades was working as an Israeli spy and arms dealer has defended his actions and said it was ‘exciting’ being his country’s ‘James Bond.’
Arnon Milchan, 68, who’s famous for smash hit movies including ‘Fight Club’ and ‘Pretty Woman,’ spoke openly for the first time about his espionage work in an Israeli TV special that aired Monday night.
The program reveals Milchan, at the special request of his friend Shimon Peres, who is now the country’s president’ set up and operated some 30 companies in 17 countries that helped Israel obtain parts and plans for its nuclear project in the 1980s. He brokered deals worth hundreds of millions of dollars, according to the show.
‘I did it for my country and I’m proud of it,’ Milchan said of his work for Israel’s now-defunct spy unit Bureau of Scientific Relations.
‘Do you know what it was like to be a 20-something guy whose country decided to let him be James Bond? Wow! The action! That was exciting.’
The film tycoon spoke to Israeli investigative journalist Ilana Dayan for the season premiere of her current affairs show, Uvda.
Milchan was born in 1944 in what was then Palestine but was a successful young businessman in the United States when Peres, then in the defense department, recruited him to help following the 1973 Yom Kippur War.
Israeli spy officials used bank accounts set up by Milchan to buy up helicopters and missiles and other defense equipment from around the world, Dayan said.
Milchan, the multi-billionaire chairman of New Regency Productions, explains in the program how he convinced a German engineer to let him photograph plans for a nuclear facility and helped the South African government deal with the international backlash to its apartheid system in exchange for uranium supplied to Israel.
When the FBI discovered one of his companies was used to ship nuclear triggers to Israel without proper licenses in 1985, an executive who was involved was indicted.
But charges against Milchan were dropped by the Reagan administration.
He explains how famed Hollywood director Sidney Pollack, whose films included ‘Tootsie’ and ‘Out of Africa,’ was ‘my partner in export in aerospace, planes, all kinds of things, with license.’
Pollack, who died in 2008, acquired arms and other military equipment for Israel in the 1970s, reveals Milchan in the TV report.
In the show, Robert De Niro was also interviewed sitting beside Milchan and recalled suspecting something about the producer’s ‘ventures’ decades ago, but ‘I wasn’t sure.’
De Niro was asked if he knew what was going on at the time, and he said he did.
‘I remember at some point, I had asked Arnon about that, being friends I was curious, but not in an accusatory way, I just wanted to know.
‘He gave me that answer and I accepted it,’ said De Niro.
Milchan also said he used at least one big-name actor’s star quality (Richard Dreyfuss) to lure U.S. scientist Arthur Biehl – an expert on nuclear weapons and a co-developer of the hydrogen bomb – to a meeting.
Milchan invited Biehl to the actor’s home under the pretense the actor was seeking scientific advice for a project he was working on.
Milchan expected Biehl to cooperate because, ‘Anyone who lives in California is a star-fucker… They hear “star”…they come running,’ he said.
Estimated earlier this year to be worth $4.2 billion, Milchan insisted he never profited from his spy work but risked his life multiple times even as rumors swirled around Hollywood.
‘In Hollywood, they don’t like working with an arms dealer, ideologically… with someone who lives off selling machine guns and killing,’ he said. ‘Instead of someone talking to me about a script, I had to spend half an hour explaining that I’m not an arms dealer. If people knew how many times I risked my life, back and forth, again and again, for my country.’
Milchan said he wanted to speak out about what he’d done to gain recognition in Israel.
Two years ago, a book titled Confidential: The Life of Secret Agent Turned Hollywood Tycoon Arnon Milchan, was published by authors Meir Doron and Joseph Gelman.
The book alleged that Milchan was an operative for Israel’s Bureau of Scientific Relations, which gathered information for Israel’s alleged nuclear program.
The bureau was closed after Jonathan Pollard was arrested for spying on behalf of Israel in 1986.
Milchan is still making movies, and his company, New Regency films, is working on four films slated for release in 2013-14.
Here are some the quotes bolstering the authors’ claims and those of Milchan:
Arnon is a special man. His activities gave us a huge advantage, strategically, diplomatically, and technologically. In my present position as president, I am restrained from recommending any single individual for our highest defense-related honor, but undoubtedly, Arnon Milchan is worthy of such an acknowledgment, and that’s as close to a recommendation that I, as president, can give. –Shimon Peres, President of Israel.
Never, never tell jokes about a man with easy access to weapons of mass destruction. –Peter Chernin, former CEO of Fox Entertainment Group.
Arnon Milchan…is a loyal and generous friend who also happens to be a great longterm and trustworthy partner. – Rupert Murdoch, CEO, News Corporation.
I’m not an expert on espionage laws, but this raises some questions: Isn’t what Milchan did in the 1970s illegal?