Arnon Milchan, renowned producer of such Hollywood hits as “Pretty Woman,” “Fight Club” and “LA Confidential”, has come forth with perhaps his greatest story of all: he was an Israeli spy who helped boost the country’s nuclear program in the 70s and 80s.
In an in depth interview broadcast on Monday with Israel’s Channel 2 flagship investigative program ‘Uvda’ (Fact), the 68-year-old producer discussed his involvement in clandestine arms deals and efforts to buy technologies Israel allegedly needed to make nuclear weapons.
The expose followed Milchan’s career from the late ‘1960s and early ‘1970s, when he was a young and successful businessman in the United States who had a close relationship with current Israeli President Shimon Peres.
Peres, who at the time was helping set up the Negev Nuclear Research Center, tasked Milchan with acquiring equipment and information necessary to get the project off the ground.
“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 Israeli daily Haaretz cited Milchan as saying. He ran a thriving fertilizer company in Israel before finding success in Hollywood.
The report also outlined how Milchan set up bank accounts and companies in order to facilitate the transfer of materials and equipment through Lakam, Israel’s secretive Bureau of Scientific Relations. At the height of his operations, Milchan was operating 30 firms in 17 different countries.
The acquisition of nuclear triggers for Israel by Milchan’s company, Milco, almost landed him in hot water with the FBI, which discovered they had been shipped to Israel without the proper licensing. The aerospace executive Richard Kelly Smyth, who used one of Milchan’s companies to deliver triggers to Israel, was indicted in 1985 over the affair. Milchan claimed he was completely unaware Israel had ordered the triggers.
“I didn’t even know what triggers were.”
After the trigger incident, which was followed by the 1986 arrest of Jonathan Jay Pollard, a US civilian intelligence analyst who was later convicted for passing classified information to Israel, the Bureau of Scientific Relations was shut down.
Milchan further described how he once persuaded a German engineer to take home plans on how to construct a nuclear facility from a safe where he worked.
Saying the engineer “couldn’t be bought,” Milchan said he talked the scientist into leaving the plans on a table at home and when he went out to dine with his wife, someone would enter the premises and photograph the documents.
He also used his clout in Hollywood to help the South African apartheid regime clear up its international image in exchange for helping Israel acquire uranium.
Arms deals and A-list accomplices
In the 1970s, Milchan also brokered deals for hundreds of millions of dollars between Israel and US companies for helicopters, missiles and other military equipment.
Uvda showed that Milchan’s company at times made as much as 60 percent off the deals, though Milchan insisted on camera that all of the money made it back to Israel.
“I did it for my country and I’m proud of it,” AP cites Milchan as saying.
Once his activities shifted to the silver screen, he continued his clandestine activities and maintained close ties with high-ranking Israeli officials.
Once word spread that Milchan was moonlighting as an arms dealer, many in the industry were reluctant to do business with him.
“In Hollywood they don’t like working with an arms dealer, ideologically,” he said, “with someone who lives off selling machine-guns and killing. Instead of someone talking to me about a script, I had to spend half an hour explaining that I’m not an arms dealer,” The Times of Israel reports.
Milchan said upon arriving in Hollywood, “I detached myself completely from my physical activities to dedicate myself to what I really wanted – filmmaking.”
“(But) sometimes it gets mixed up,” he added.
According to Haaretz, Milchan also actively recruited other Hollywood movers and shakers to get involved in his work, most notably the late director, Sydney Pollack.
Milchan says Pollack knew exactly what he was doing when he allegedly moved to acquire firearms and military hardware for Israel in the 1970s.
“[Pollack] had to decide what he was willing to do and what he was not willing to do. On a lot of things he said no. On a lot of other things he said yes.”
Milchan also admitted trying to use an A-list Hollywood star as bait to lure a US nuclear scientist to a private rendezvous at the actor’s house. The report never clarified whether that meeting in fact took place.
Milchan, a part-owner of Israel’s Channel 10 television company and who founded the New Regency film company, has produced more than 120 movies since the 1970s. He forged an especially close relationship with Robert De Niro, who along with actors Russell Crowe and Ben Affleck, was featured in the program. Milchan also helped bring Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie together for the film ‘Mr And Mrs Smith.’
Featured Image: Producer Arnon Milchan (Kevin Winter/Getty Images/AFP)