Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas was KGB agent, researchers claim

Mahmoud Abbas

Mahmoud Abbas

Two Israeli researchers claim that a document from the archives of the Cold-War-era KGB identifies the current president of the Palestine Authority, Mahmoud Abbas, as a Soviet agent. The document was found in the United Kingdom, and was smuggled out of Russia by a former senior archivist of the Soviet KGB. Abbas is the leader of the largely secular Palestinian group Fatah, which controls the West Bank. Unlike Hamas, which is designated a terrorist group by Israel and its allies, Fatah is seen by Tel Aviv as the legitimate representative of the Palestinian people. That is disputed by Hamas, a religiously inspired group, which controls the Gaza Strip and maintains a tense relationship with Fatah and Abbas himself.

The allegation about Abbas’ past emerged on Wednesday in the Israeli media, after two local academic researchers disclosed the contents of a KGB document discovered at Cambridge University’s Churchill Archives Centre in Britain. The researchers, Gideon Remez and Isabella Ginor, of the Truman Institute at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, said the document dates from 1983. It was found among thousands of similar documents that were secretly smuggled out of Russia in the early 1990s by British intelligence, following the defection of Vasili Mitrokhin, an archivist in the First Chief Directorate of the KGB during the Cold War. Some of the documents later formed the basis of a two-volume edition on the activities of Soviet intelligence, which was edited by Cambridge University Professor Christopher Andrew.

According to Remez and Ginor, the document identifies Mahmoud Abbas as a “KGB agent” based in Damascus, Syria, codenamed krotov, which in Russian means ‘mole’. Abbas was born in Palestine in 1935, but his family fled to Syria in 1948, following the establishment of the state of Israel and the outbreak of the first Arab-Israeli war. The young Abbas grew up in Damascus, where he went to university and joined the local branch of the PLO, the Palestinian Liberation Organization, of which Fatah is a member. If true, the allegation that Abbas worked for the KGB will not come as a surprise to observers of Palestinian politics. For most of the Cold War, the PLO was known to be close to Moscow, while Abbas was intimately involved with the Palestinian-Soviet Friendship Association, a pro-Moscow group that was widely seen as an agent of communist influence in the Palestinian territories. But the document from the Mitrokhin archives may be the first concrete evidence that Abbas was handled by the KGB.

Palestinian officials quickly dismissed the document on Wednesday as a fabrication and a deliberate slander. Mohammed al-Madani, a member of the central committee of Fatah, and a close associate of Abbas, said the allegation was part of a “clear effort to damage [Abbas] by various actors, including the government of Israel”.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 08 August 2016 | Permalink

Elite Hamas military commander reportedly defects to Israel

Kerem Shalom border crossingA senior member of the military wing of Hamas, the Palestinian militant group that governs the Gaza Strip, is believed to have defected to Israel. News of the rumored defection first appeared on the website of Al-Hayat al-Jadida, the official newspaper of the Palestinian Authority, which is based in the West Bank. On Tuesday, Al-Hayat said that the man, a member of the Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades, Hamas’ military wing, had not been seen for several days.

The alleged defector was later named as Bassam Mahmoud Baraka, and reportedly comes from a well-known family in Kahn Younis, on the southern sector of the Gaza Strip. Baraka’s father is believed to be a religious judge that serves in Gaza under Hamas’ jurisdiction. According to Al-Hayat, the missing man is an elite member of the al-Qassam Brigades and specializes in operating inside the numerous underground tunnels that are said to span the entirety of the Palestinian enclave. The tunnels are of strategic importance to Hamas, as they secretly connect it with the outside world, despite Israeli efforts to prevent the trafficking of goods and people to and from the Gaza Strip. Some Israeli military officials believe that Hamas operatives are able to travel from one end of the Strip to the other without having to emerge from the ground. Since the 2014 Israeli invasion of Gaza, Tel Aviv has said that it views the elimination of Hamas’ vast underground tunnel network as a national security priority.

According to Palestinian websites, Baraka told members of his family that he was stepping out for a brief hike but never returned. He is believed to have voluntarily approached the border fence that separates Gaza from Israel and surrendered himself to a group of Israeli soldiers. Al-Hayat reports that Baraka’s family has already been informed from representatives of the Red Cross that he is in Israeli hands. Palestinian sources suggest that the Israeli soldiers that took in Baraka were aware of his pending defection and were waiting for him at the border. He was also reportedly carrying a laptop computer with him.

Israel is known to aggressively recruit informants in the Gaza Strip, many of them affiliated with Hamas. In 2010 it was revealed that Mosab Hassan Yousef, whose father is a senior Hamas official, was a secret informant for Shin Bet, Israel’s domestic security agency. Yousef defected to Israel and is now believed to be living in the United States.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 15 June 2016 | Permalink

Ex-Mossad chief calls on Israel to speak with Hamas

Efraim HalevyA former director of Israel’s Mossad intelligence agency has called on the Israeli government to reach out to Hamas, arguing that the Palestinian group is now ready to accept a peace settlement. Efraim Halevy directed the Mossad, Israel’s primary external intelligence agency, for five years before retiring in 2002. He is best known for helping forge a historic peace treaty between Israel and Jordan in 1994, which made the Hashemite Kingdom the second Arab country, after Egypt, to sing a peace accord with the Jewish state.

Halevy was speaking last week at an annual conference hosted in New York by the Israel-based newspaper The Jerusalem Post. During a panel entitled “Does the World Have an Answer to Islamic Terror?”, Halevy said it was time for Israel to speak to Hamas about the possibility of a peace treaty. The former Mossad director said he knew that “senior figures in the United States” had already established contacts with the Palestinian militant group, which controls the Gaza Strip. He also said that he knew “with certainty” that the leadership of Hamas was prepared to consider some kind of a “temporary settlement” based on the promise of the establishment of a Palestinian state along the pre-1967 Six-Day War borders. “The leadership of Hamas knows that they have no chance of destroying Israel”, said Halevy, adding that “now is the time to talk to Hamas”. According to the retired spy, a temporary settlement between Israel and Hamas that seeks to establish a Palestinian state would amount to a start in negotiations for a recognition of the state of Israel by Hamas. Halevy criticized Israel for refusing to speak with Hamas, saying that “as long as Israel refuses to talk with Hamas, and in the absence of any other alternative, [Hamas] has no option but to do what it does now”.

Last week was not the first time that Halevy has called for Israel to negotiate with Hamas. In July 2014, he told the American television network CNN that there were numerous radical groups in the Gaza Strip that were more threatening to Israel’s security than Hamas, not to mention Sunni Islamist groups like the Islamic State, which posed a much more pertinent challenge to regional stability. Two years earlier, n 2012, Halevy had issued a public call for dialogue between Israel and Iran, saying that “the Iranians, in their heart of hearts, would like to get out of their conundrum”, referring to Tehran’s nuclear program.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 01 June 2016 | Permalink

Israel says it foiled attempt to smuggle spy drones into Gaza

spy droneAuthorities in Israel said on Sunday that they foiled a plan to smuggle dozens of spy drones from Israel into the Gaza Strip. The Israeli Ministry of Defense said in a statement late on Sunday that the drones had been detected by members of the Shin Bet, Israel’s security police. The incident reportedly took place at Kerem Shalom, a major border crossing in to Gaza, a Palestinian enclave that is controlled by Hamas. The Defense Ministry statement also said that Sunday’s incident was only the latest in a string of recent attempts to smuggle spy drones into Gaza, all of which had been stopped by the Shin Bet since January.

According to the Israeli government report, the spy drones were found hidden inside boxes of toys that had been marked for export to Gaza. The drones were of different sizes, types and capabilities, but all were equipped with sophisticated cameras and related software, said the report. Israeli media reported on Sunday that, according to Israeli government sources in Tel Aviv, the drones were almost certainly going to be used by Hamas to spy on possible targets inside Israel. A source in the Israeli Department of Defense said Hamas was known to employ drones in order to explore and map the terrain that is adjacent to the Gaza Strip.

In March of last year, Egyptian authorities reported seeing several spy drones flying out of the Gaza Strip and conducting reconnaissance over Egyptian airspace in the Sinai Peninsula, which borders Gaza. According to some reports, a number of the spy drones that flew out of Gaza were seen as far as 50 kilometers (35 miles) inside Egyptian territory. The latest information from Israel is that the government in Tel Aviv believes that the pattern and frequency of attempts to smuggle spy drones into the Gaza Strip justify an investigation, which is now underway.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 22 February 2016 | Permalink

Concerns about Israeli spying prompt debate on EU security measures

EU headquartersA debate on information security measures in the European Union was prompted last week after some officials voiced concerns that the proceedings of a closed-door meeting were secretly monitored by Israel. The meeting took place on January 15 as part of regular proceedings by the EU’s Political and Security Committee (PSC). The main item on the agenda was the EU’s Middle Eastern policy. According to some meeting participants, Israeli diplomats appeared to be aware of a statement discussed during the PSC meeting “in real time”, which prompted a wider debate on EU information security policies.

According to the Brussels-based EU Observer, which reported on the story, EU member state ambassadors present at the meeting worded a statement that contained a sentence deemed critical to Israel’s policy on Palestine. The sentence allegedly stated: “The EU will continue to unequivocally and explicitly make the distinction between Israel and all territories occupied by Israel in 1967”. According to some ambassadors who were present at the PSC meeting, “Israeli contacts sent text messages to them with requests to alter wording shortly after each new draft [of the PSC statement] went around”. Further suspicions were raised when, at the conclusion of the meeting, the Greek delegate vetoed the contentious line, standing alone against the remaining 27 delegates who had earlier supported it.

Last week, sources told the EU Observer that Israel may have placed bugs in the room where the PSC meeting took place. They added that the committee was debating whether to begin holding meetings in a secure room located in the EU headquarters building in Brussels, where the use of cell phones by meeting participants is not possible. They also said that a stricter classification policy should apply to PSC documents. Others, however, said that the source of the leak may have been the Greek delegate —the sole participant at the meeting who assumed a seemingly pro-Israeli stance. The Greek ambassador may have shared the details of the proceedings with Israeli officials, thus effectively spying on the conference on behalf of Israel, speculated the EU Observer. Another PSC meeting delegate told the paper that “the spy theory” was effectively concocted “in order to avoid confrontation” with the Greek delegation.

The EU Observer contacted the Greek mission to the EU, but was told that the Greek ambassador would never spy on the EU “as a matter of principle”. The Israeli mission to the EU declined to comment.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 15 February 2016 | Permalink

Switzerland made secret deal with PLO in the 1970s, new book alleges

Yasser ArafatSwitzerland secretly agreed in the 1970s to support calls for Palestinian statehood, in return for not being targeted by Palestinian militants, according to a new book. Written by Marcel Gyr, a journalist with the Zurich-based Neue Zürcher Zeitung, the book alleges that the Swiss government took the unprecedented step of contacting Palestinian militants in 1970. According to Gyr, the move followed a series of attacks against Israeli targets in Switzerland by several Palestinian armed groups. In February 1969, Palestinian militants fired on an El Al airliner at Zurich’s Kloten Airport, killing the pilot. A year later, a Swissair Flight 330 from Zurich to Hong Kong with a stopover In Tel Aviv, Israel, exploded in mid-air, killing nearly 50 passengers and crew. The Syrian-backed Palestinian group Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine – General Command (PFLP-GC) later claimed responsibility for the attack. In September 1970 another Swissair flight, headed to the United States, was hijacked and diverted to Jordan, where its passengers were held hostage.

It was during the latter incident, claims Gyr, that Switzerland’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Pierre Graber, clandestinely contacted the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), the umbrella group that coordinated the activities of a multitude of Palestinian armed groups. Gyr alleges that Graber reached out to the PLO without informing his colleagues in the cabinet, and that he used a junior Swiss parliamentarian as an envoy and intermediary. Eventually, the PLO, which at the time was led by Yasser Arafat, agreed to release the hostages. He also offered to stop launching armed attacks, hijackings, and other violent operations on Swiss soil. In return, claims Gyr, Switzerland would agree to quietly abandon the investigation into the bombing of Swissair Flight 330, and to push for diplomatic recognition of the PLO as the legal representative of the Palestinian people.

Gyr claims that both sides kept their side of the bargain. The Swiss government gradually abandoned the investigation into the bombing of Swissair Flight 330. The country also led European efforts to offer diplomatic status to the PLO. Meanwhile, although the war between the PLO and Israel continued throughout Europe, no Palestinian attacks ever took place again on Swiss soil. Responding to Gyr’s book, Switzerland’s current Minister of Foreign Affairs, Didier Burkhalter, said he had no idea about the secret agreement and that he was “very surprised indeed” to know about it. Some Swiss political figures have asked for the establishment of a parliamentary inquiry to investigate Gyr’s allegations. It is unclear whether such a committee would have access to hundreds of thousands of pages about the Palestinian attacks in Switzerland, which today remain classified.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 25 January 2016 | Permalink

Ex-Mossad chief calls for ouster of Israeli prime minister

A longtime former director of the intelligence agency Mossad has called for the ousting of the country’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, dismissing him as dangerous for Israel’s security. Meir Dagan stepped down from his post as head of the Mossad in November of 2010, after leading the agency for over eight years —the longest tenure of any Mossad director in history. Soon after his retirement, Dagan emerged as a leading critic of the government of Prime Minister Netanyahu, whom he accuses of endangering Israel’s security by wrecking its international reputation and isolating the country from its friends and allies around the world. In 2011, Dagan gave a lengthy interview in which he admonished calls by Netanyahu to bomb Iran’s nuclear facilities as “the stupidest idea” he had ever heard. In a subsequent interview to Reuters news agency, Dagan insisted that the military option should be last on the table and said that the Iranian nuclear issue should be “left in the hands of the international community”.

Responding to the Israeli Prime Minister’s controversial trip to the United States last week, Dagan said last week it had been destructive to Israel’s interests. Speaking on Israel’s Channel 2 television, the former spy chief did not deny that Iran’s nuclear program was a potential threat to Israel’s security, “but going to war with the US [over Iran] is not the way to stop it”, he said. Dagan’s supporters, who come mostly from the center-left of the Israeli political scene, accuse the government of Prime Minister Netanyahu of focusing almost exclusively on the Iranian nuclear program and neglecting the increasingly volatile relationship between Israel and the Palestinians. Many Israeli left-of-center voters blame the Prime Minister for the 2014 war in the Gaza Strip, which they say damaged Israel’s reputation and failed to provide a long-term solution to the lingering Palestinian issue.

Last weekend, the former Mossad chief was the keynote speaker at a rally against the Netanyahu administration that brought together nearly 40,000 people in Tel Aviv. He told the crowd that the prime minister’s policies were leading to an apartheid state in the Occupied Territories and was making Israel less safe. “For 45 years I have served this country, all of them dedicated to safeguarding its security”, said Dagan. “I don’t want that dream to disappear”, he added, at one point breaking down in tears. Many of the speakers at the rally also called on the Israeli government to refocus its policy priorities away from Iran and toward domestic social issues, including education, housing, healthcare, income levels in relation to the rising cost of living, and services for the elderly.