LOS ANGELES (CNN) — Hollywood producer Arnon Milchan confirmed what has been rumored for decades — that he secretly helped Israel develop its nuclear weapons program.
Milchan, who has produced dozens of major movies and worked with the biggest stars, worked for Israel’s now-defunct spy unit Bureau of Scientific Relations, he told Israeli television’s Uvda “Fact 14” show.
A 2011 book detailed Milchan’s secret work, but until now he has not talked openly about his life of espionage.
Milchan, whose films include “Fight Club,” “Pretty Woman,” and “L.A. Confidential,” set up and operated dozens of companies that helped Israel obtain parts and plans for its nuclear project in the 1980s, he said.
“I did it for my country and I’m proud of it,” Milchan told interviewer Ilana Dayan in a report aired this week.
His spy work was a rumor in the 1980s when Milchan was producing movies, including “The King of Comedy” and “Once Upon a Time in America” with actor Robert De Niro.
De Niro sat with Milchan for an interview with Dayan for the show. He said he suspected something about the producer’s “ventures” decades ago, but “I wasn’t sure.”
He didn’t question his producer about the rumors because “it wasn’t my business,” he said. “He didn’t ask me certain things and I don’t ask him. ”
Milchan: ‘Wow! The action! That was exciting’
Milchan — born in 1944 in what was then Palestine — was a successful young businessman in the United States when his friend Shimon Peres — who later became Israel’s prime minister — recruited him to help after the 1973 Yom Kippur War, the Uvda report said.
Israeli spy officials used bank accounts set up by Milchan to make weapons-related purchases around the world, including helicopters and missiles, the report said.
“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,” Milchan told Dayan.
Milchan told how he convinced a German engineer to let him photograph plans for a nuclear facility.
When the FBI discovered one of his companies was used to ship nuclear triggers to Israel without proper licenses, it resulted in the 1985 indictment of an executive who was involved. Charges against Milchan were dropped by the Reagan administration.
“I didn’t know Israel ordered the triggers,” Milchan told Dayan. “I didn’t even know what triggers were.”
He also acknowledged helping the government of South Africa with public relations when it was under intense international criticism and sanctions because of its apartheid system. His help was in exchange for uranium supplied to Israel from South Africa, he said.
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,” Milchan said. “He had to decide what he was willing and what he was not. On many things he said ‘No.’ Many things he said ‘Yes.’ ”
Milchan is a multi-billionaire, but he insisted that he never profited from his spy work.
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