The Hebrew University researcher who unearthed evidence that Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas served as an agent for the Soviet Union during the 1980s says that this should not derail Russia’s current attempt re-ignite Israel-Palestinian peace talks. But at least one senior MK said the revelation is serious enough to give Israel pause before agreeing to Russian mediation.
The list was retrieved from the Mitrokhin Archive by Hebrew University scholars Dr. Isabella Ginor and Gideon Remez and includes all the informants, agents and resources of the Soviet Union’s intelligence organization who were in Damascus in 1983.
“The list is titled ‘People cultivated by KGB in Damascus in 1983,’’ Dr. Isabella Ginor told Tazpit Press Service (TPS). “The relevant line unequivocally names the Palestinian Authority president as a full pledged agent, under the codename ‘Krotov’ derived from the Russian word for Mole.”
According to Ginor, the list reads in Russian: “Krotov” – Abbas Mahmoud, birth year: 1935. Birthplace: Palestine. Memberships: Fatah Executive Board and Palestinian Liberation organization in Damascus. Designation: agent.
The Mitrokhin Archive is a collection of recently declassified KGB documents copied by hand over 30 years by former KGB archivist and analyst, Vasili Nikitich Mitrokhin, who defected to the United Kingdom with the dissolution of the Soviet Union and took these documents with him.
According to Ginor, the Archive is considered to be very reliable and the Hebrew University researchers went over it with a fine comb. “I have retrieved several original KGB documents from Moscow whose handwritten copies eventually turned up in the Mitrokhin Archive. Additionally, the Russian intelligence community considers this Archive to be reliable, so this should tell you something,” Ginor told TPS.
Now, this seemingly innocuous curiosity from the bygone age of the Cold War might have very contemporary implications on Israeli Palestinian negotiations and Russia’s new role as a potential mediator.
The current Russian deputy foreign minister, Mikhail Bogdanov, is currently working on organizing a Russian lead summit between Abbas and Israeli Prime minister Netanyahu. According to the Russian Foreign Ministry, in 1983, the same year as Abbas was allegedly an active KGB agent, Bogdanov was stationed in Damascus as an envoy of the Soviet Union.
“It doesn’t surprise me that Abbas was a messenger of Putin and the KGB on various matters in the region,” MK Motti Yogev, a colonel in the IDF reserves and senior member of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee told TPS. “Russia’s recent efforts [to convene peace talks in Moscow] show that Russia is trying once again to expand its influence in the Middle East, as it had Soviet days.”
“This is understandable, but they should have given Israel full disclosure. They should have said from the beginning that Abbas was a Russian spy and the man responsible for the current round of mediation [Russian deputy foreign minister, Mikhail Bogdanov] worked with him or was his handler.”
However, Dr. Isabella Ginor, who is an expert on the historical role of the USSR in the Arab-Israeli conflict at The Harry S. Truman Research Institute for the Advancement of Peace, told TPS that the timing of those positions is “coincidence.” She added that to the best of her knowledge, Bogdanov was never involved in Soviet security or intelligence work. “Of course, suspicions are impossible to prove or disprove academically, but I have never seen any signs to indicate that Bogdanov was involved with espionage.”
“Bogdanov is a career diplomat and a professional orientalist,” Dr. Ginor explained. “He was also ambassador to Israel, he spent many years in the Middle East. Bogdanov is definitely the most qualified Russian official to work on facilitating the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations.”
Senior Palestinian officials have dismissed the report as “Israeli lies and propaganda.” Abbas has yet to comment on the matter.