May 26, 2021 - World

Scoop: Israeli spy chief in talks to join Mnuchin's investment fund

Then-Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin is seen with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem.
Then-Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem in January. Photo. Emil Salman/Pool/AFP via Getty Images

The boss of Israel's spy agency has been in private talks with former Treasury secretary Steven Mnuchin about joining his investment fund that will work with Gulf countries, two sources familiar with the conversations tell Axios.

Why it matters: Yossi Cohen, director of the Mossad, is retiring next week. But the discussions between him and Mnuchin occurred while he was still serving in his government role, which also included handling Israel's ties with Gulf countries such as Qatar and Saudi Arabia, these sources said.

  • Cohen and a representative for Mnuchin declined to comment when Axios approached them about these discussions. A source who spoke to Cohen said no final decision has been made about him joining Mnuchin's fund.

State of play: Mnuchin's fund is expected to raise money from sovereign wealth funds in the Persian Gulf region. Funds for Qatar and the United Arab Emirates are evaluating cooperation with Mnuchin, according to sources familiar with their deliberations.

  • Former U.S. ambassador to Israel David Friedman also has discussed joining Mnuchin's fund. Friedman worked with Cohen during the Trump presidency on many issues, including Israel's relations with Gulf countries.
  • They resulted in a series of direct normalization agreements between Israel and several Arab countries known collectively as the "Abraham Accords."

The big picture: Both Mnuchin and Cohen worked closely with Qatar, the UAE and other Gulf states as part of their government jobs and traveled to the region several times.

  • The Mossad has been working closely with Qatar in recent years on the issue of Gaza. This work continued during the recent crisis, with the Israeli spy agency passing messages to Hamas via Qatar.
  • Israel has approved and sometimes requested Qatari transfers of hundreds of millions of dollars to Hamas-controlled Gaza. This has given Qatar sizable diplomatic influence.
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