An Israeli billionaire businessman has accused Mossad director Yossi Cohen of pledging allegiance to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife Sara Netanyahu in exchange for his 2013 promotion to the role of national security advisor, Israeli media report, citing police testimony.
Cohen’s lobbying was reportedly conveyed to police by Arnon Milchan –an Israeli film producer who resides in Hollywood. Police accuse Milchan of giving Netanyahu bribes in exchange for tax exemption legislation that would benefit the billionaire.
Milchan is said to have been contacted by Cohen in 2013, while the latter was working as a Mossad official, with Cohen alleged to have asked the billionaire to speak to Netanyahu about considering him for the role of chief of Israel’s National Security Council. Milchan reportedly told Cohen that the Netanyahus “appreciate loyalty”, with Cohen allegedly promising to provide such loyalty.
Hadas Klein, an assistant to Mr. Milchan, is also said to have testified in the case.
Cohen was appointed to head Israel’s National Security Council in August 2013, and in late 2015, was tapped to succeed Tamir Pardo as Mossad’s director. Last summer, his term in office was extended through June 2021.
The prime minister’s office did not immediately comment on the reports. Cohen denied the allegations. A statement on behalf of Sara Netanyahu indicated that she “rejects the blatant lie told time and time again” that “she somehow has anything to do with nominations in any way”.
Cohen is seen to be one of the Netanyahu family’s “closest confidants”, with media describing him as the prime minister’s “shadow warrior” in a number of diplomatic and military campaigns.
Last year, a senior advisor to Defence Minister Benny Gantz told a newspaper that Cohen is the strongest candidate to succeed Netanyahu as head of the Likud Party, saying he has the right combination of “charm and cruelty” to do so.
Prime Minister Netanyahu is facing three separate criminal cases, with the evidence phase of his trial set to begin in April. ‘Case 1000’ accuses him of fraud and breach of trust over his alleged acceptance of $200,000 in expensive gifts from Milchan and James Packer, an Australian investor billionaire. In ‘Case 2000’, police accuse Netanyahu of striking a deal with an Israeli newspaper to weaken one of its rival in exchange for favourable coverage. Finally, Case 4000 accuses him of bribery, fraud, and breach of trust over the granting of regulatory reprieve to a telecoms company in exchange for positive coverage by its news site.
The corruption trial comes as Israelis prepare to vote in legislative elections on 23 March. The country has already faced three rounds of elections between April 2019 and March 2020, with none able to give Likud or its rivals the majority in the Knesset needed to independently form a government.