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

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

Israel wiretapped PLO head office in Tunisia: report

Yasser Arafat in Tunis in 1993By JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
Israeli intelligence was able to intercept the conversations of senior Palestinian leaders in Tunisia in the months leading to the 1993 Oslo Accords, according to an article published Monday by a leading Israeli newspaper. Veteran security correspondent Ronen Bergman wrote in Yedioth Ahronoth  that sophisticated listening devices were planted in the office of Mahmoud Abbas. Today, Abbas, known also as Abu Mazen, is the President of the Palestinian National Authority, based in the occupied West Bank. But in 1993 he was Deputy Chairman of the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO), serving under its founder and Chairman, Yasser Arafat. At that time, the PLO was headquartered in Tunisian capital Tunis, where it had relocated in 1982 after it was driven out of Lebanon during Israel’s invasion. Bergman said that the operation, codenamed GOLDEN FLEECE, was authorized by Shabtai Shavit, who was at the time Director of the Mossad, Israel’s primary covert-action agency. The operation, considered one of the Mossad’s most important and secret at the time, was carried out by a Palestinian agent who had been recruited by Israeli intelligence. The agent, described by Bergman as a “man within the PLO leadership”, was allegedly affiliated with Fatah, a Palestinian political party that has traditionally formed the largest faction within the PLO. The agent allegedly managed to plant at least two eavesdropping devices at the personal office of the PLO’s Vice Chairman, one in his office chair and one inside one of the desk lamps in the room. Bergman says that, on the day the devices became operational, Shavit held an emergency meeting to inform the Mossad’s senior commanders about their existence. Read more of this post

Revealed: German neo-Nazi who helped Palestinians was CIA agent

Willi Pohl, a.k.a. Willi VossBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
A German far-right militant, whose animosity against Jews led him to aid Palestinians kill Israeli athletes in the 1972 Munich massacre, says he was later recruited by the United States Central Intelligence Agency. Willi Pohl, also known as Willi Voss, 68, was arrested by German authorities a few weeks after Palestinian terrorist group Black September stormed the Olympic village in Munich and took hostage 11 Israeli athletes. All of them were eventually killed by their captors during a botched escape attempt at the nearby Fürstenfeldbruck airport. Voss, who was a known neo-Nazi activist at the time, was charged with possession of weapons and providing logistical support to the Black September militants. However, after his sentence was suspended, Voss managed to secretly emigrate to Beirut, Lebanon, where he was recruited as an agent of Jihaz el-Razd, the intelligence service of the Fatah, the main group in the Palestine Liberation Organization. But in 1975, while on a PLO mission in Belgrade, Yugoslavia, he decided to switch sides. He made the decision after discovering that the car he and his girlfriend were transporting on behalf of the PLO from Beirut to Belgrade contained weapons and highly unstable explosives. He says that the PLO had apparently failed to mention the existence of the hidden items when they asked him to transport the car to Europe. According to Voss’ new book, which has just been published in Germany under the title UnterGrund (Underground), the guns and explosives were discovered by customs officers in Romania (then Rumania); but because at that time the communist country was an ally of the PLO, Voss and his girlfriend were allowed to travel to Belgrade, minus the car and the weapons. Read more of this post

Israel admits assassinating Palestinian commander in Tunisia

Abu JihadBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
Authorities in Israel have authorized the publication of an interview acknowledging Israel’s role in the assassination of a senior Palestinian military commander in Tunisia in 1988. The target of the assassination was Khalil al-Wazir, better known as Abu Jihad, one of the co-founders of Fatah, the secular wing of the Palestinian Liberation Organization chaired by Yasser Arafat. In the 1960s and 1970s, Abu Jihad rose within the ranks of Fatah and eventually became commander of its armed wing, known as al-Assifa. However, he was killed on April 16, 1988, when a group of unidentified gunmen stormed his villa in Tunisian capital Tunis, before managing to slip away. In the past 23 years, the Israeli intelligence services have been repeatedly singled out as prime suspects in Abu Jihad’s assassination. Nearly 15 years ago, Israeli newspaper Yedioth Ahronot announced that it had secured an interview with an Israeli commando who had a leading role in the operation and had been the one who fired the shots that killed the Fatah commander. But the interview was blocked from publication by the Israeli military censors, who, under Israeli law, have the power to prevent the airing of information that might harm national security. In 2000, however, the commando, Nahum Lev, died in a motorcycle accident, which prompted the Israeli newspaper to renew its application for the ban on the interview to be lifted. This week, Israeli authorities officially lifted the ban, which allowed Yedioth Ahronot to run the interview with Lev. The airing of the interview was coupled by a more substantial account of the operation, which appeared in the specialist Israel Defense magazine. According to the article, the operation was planned over several months by the Israeli covert action agency Mossad and the Sayaret Matkal, a special forces unit of the Israel Defense Forces. It involved 26 commandos who allegedly reached the Tunisian shore on rubber boats. Several of them walked the streets of Tunis disguised as women tourists. Read more of this post

Medical tests suggest Yasser Arafat may have been poisoned

Yasser ArafatBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
A nine-month forensic toxicological investigation into the death of Yasser Arafat has raised the possibility that the Palestinian leader may have been poisoned with a radioactive substance. The Institut de Radiophysique (IRA) in Lausanne, Switzerland, has announced the discovery of significant traces of polonium-210 on the personal artifacts that Arafat used during his final days. Speaking at a press conference in Switzerland on Monday, IRA Director Dr. Francois Bochud said that the Institute could “confirm that we measured an unexplained, elevated amount of unsupported polonium-210 in the belongings of Mr. Arafat that contained stains of biological fluids”. According to the IRA, some of the Fatah founder’s personal belongings, including his underwear and his toothbrush, contained levels of polonium that were as many as ten times higher than those in random samples used as control subjects in the study. The findings of the investigation, which was sponsored by the Qatari news channel Al-Jazeera, may eventually shed light into the cause of Arafat’s death, which remains a medical mystery. Doctors in the West Bank and France have confirmed that the Palestinian leader was in sound health until he suddenly fell ill in mid-October 2004, and that his body showed no symptoms of any known disease. Polonium-210 made news headlines in a major way in November 2006, when it was identified as the poison used to kill Alexander Litvinenko. Read more of this post

News you may have missed #643 (Israel edition)

Mosab Hassan Yousef

Yousef/Joseph

►►Hezbollah uncovers more Israeli spy devices. Lebanese media reported on Friday that two people were wounded in a blast that occurred in the south of the country, between the towns of Srifa and Deir Kifa. According to some of the reports, the blast targeted espionage devices which were destroyed by Israel after being exposed by Hezbollah. This is not the first time such devices have been discovered in Lebanon: see here and here for previous such incidents.
►►PLO subpoenas Palestinian who spied for Israel. The Palestine Liberation Organization served Mosab Hassan Yousef, who says he is a former spy for Israeli domestic intelligence agency Shin Bet, with a subpoena in the United States last month. The Palestinian group says it wants his notes and details of his spy work for the Israeli government.
►►Analysis: The complex relationship between the Mossad and Israeli media. “Former Mossad chief Meir Dagan’s crusade this week against an Israeli strike on Iran took on a new dimension with his several media interviews. His campaign also reflects the Mossad’s attitude toward journalists, something along the lines of respect them, suspect them and use them. The degree shifts from one Mossad head to the next”. An enlightening analysis by veteran Israeli intelligence correspondent Yossi Melman.

Mossad has long history of assassination operations

Mahmoud al-Mabhouh

Al-Mabhouh

By JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
The recent assassination of Hamas military official Mahmoud al-Mabhouh has sparked a public debate about the history of the Kidon (formerly known as Caesarea), Mossad’s elite assassination unit. Several participants in this debate frequently mention the infamous Black September killings of the 1970s (operation BAYONET), which exterminated almost every original member of the Palestinian group that perpetrated the massacre of the Israeli athletes in the 1972 summer Olympic Games in Munich. In reality, however, these operations were not conducted by the Kidon, but by a separate unit outside Mossad’s operational structure, created specifically for this purpose. The same applies to other extrajudicial assassinations of Palestinians in the Occupied Territories, which are usually perpetrated by the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) and Shin Bet, Israel’s domestic intelligence agency. Read more of this post

News you may have missed #0019

  • More interesting podcasts on Afghanistan at Electric Politics. George Kenney, of Electric News, has posted a full transcript of last month’s interesting interview with Graham E. Fuller, CIA’s former station chief in Kabul, Afghanistan. Also, a new highly interesting interview on Afghanistan has been posted on the Electric News website, this time with George Wilson. A veteran reporter who covered the Vietnam and Iraq wars, Wilson makes some noteworthy comparisons between Vietnam and Afghanistan.
  • Panetta, not Blair, should name CIA station chiefs, says ex-CIA agent. Haviland Smith, former CIA agent in Europe and the Middle East, has penned an editorial for The Baltimore Sun, in which he denounces as “simple insanity” efforts by Director of National Intelligence, Dennis Blair, to have a say at who gets appointed as CIA station chief in Kabul, Afghanistan, and elsewhere.  This is the second ex-CIA agent to issue the same warning in recent days.
  • Two more people arrested in Lebanon for spying for Israel. This raises the number of those arrested for belonging to an alleged Israeli spy ring in southern Lebanon to nearly 40. The latest arrestees include Ziad al Homsi, who in 1969 was photographed with Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) leader Yasser Arafat.

Analysis: Early Thoughts on Medhat’s Assassination

Kamal Medhat

Kamal Medhat

By JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
Kamal Medhat, 58, was a senior Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) official. He was assassinated on March 23 by a roadside bomb that struck a PLO convoy outside the entrance to the Mieh Mieh refugee camp, located near Sidon in southern Lebanon. Since Medhat’s assassination, intelNews has received several emails from readers pointing the finger at Israel’s intelligence services. There is no doubt that Medhat’s assassination is a significant setback for the broader secular Palestinian movement, and especially for Fatah, of which Medhat was a senior member. A former aide to the late PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat, Medhat had previously served as Fatah’s director of intelligence in Lebanon, and was a key supporter of Palestinian National Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. To my knowledge, Medhat was the most senior Palestinian official (of any faction) assassinated in Lebanon in nearly 30 years. Nevertheless, although an Israeli role in his assassination should not be ruled out, it would be premature to conclude at this stage that Israeli intelligence services were behind the operation. Read article →

Analysis: Why is Yemen Accusing Israel of Ties to Islamist Groups?

There is admittedly nothing new about the discovery of yet another Islamic militant cell in Yemen. Significant al-Qaeda presence has long been detected in that country. Eyebrows are bound to be raised, however, at news of a recent formal accusation by the Yemeni government that Israel offered to assist Islamist militants who had “prepared […] car bombs to attack governmental buildings and embassies”. Bizarrely, three Islamist militants arrested last week have been accused by Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh of working for “a terrorist cell with links to Israeli intelligence, [which] ha[s] been dismantled”. On January 10, a Yemeni court heard that one of the accused militants communicated with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert via email, offering to collaborate with Israeli authorities in 2008. These allegations may seem ludicrous, to say the least. However, if true, they will not signify the first time that Israeli intelligence agencies have actively supported militant Islamist groups in the Middle East. Surprised? Joseph Fitsanakis explains.