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Thursday, September 08, 2016

The KGB's man in Ramallah

Israel's Channel 1 (government-owned television) disclosed on Wednesday night that 'moderate' 'Palestinian' President Mahmoud Abbas Abu Mazen is a longtime KGB spy. He was recruited while doing a PhD in Holocaust Denial in Moscow in the early 1980's.
Here are some of the details that make this story so compelling: The Channel 1 report is based on a new study by two research fellows at Hebrew University’s Truman Institute, Isabela Ginor and Gideon Remez. (Ginor, a Russian native, and Remez, a veteran Israeli journalist, are married.)
They obtained documents from a collection kept by former KGB chief archivist Vasili Mitrokhin, who defected to the West in 1992 and lived in London. Mitrokhin kept mementos from his spook days, and part of his collection was recently opened up, allowing researchers to study it.
That’s where the Israeli couple found files that mentioned Abbas, code-name “Krotov” (“mole”).
“They could have called him ‘friend,’ or ‘our man,’ or whatever, but in the documents he’s referred to as an agent,” Remez says. Specifically, Abbas was described in a 1983 document as a KGB agent in Damascus. (It isn’t clear if the spy agency used Abbas’ services after that date.)
Moscow is where Abbas wrote his infamous Ph.D. thesis that included some choice Holocaust denial. But the researchers say these new revelations don’t change the facts on the ground. Abbas can’t be ignored just because we now know his anti-Western bona fides were more robust than previously thought.
But Remez conditions that with a warning.
“Look, Abbas now heads the Palestinian Authority, and as such he’s the man to talk to,” Remez told me. Yet, he added, “the Americans should know that the Kremlin may well still have stuff on him, and Washington must take that into account.”
Especially now, as President Vladimir Putin is trying to arrange an Israeli-Palestinian peace conference in Moscow, perhaps in the next few weeks.
If successful, even as a photo-op, such a powwow could help Putin add yet another Mideast corner to his collection of spots once dominated — or at least mostly influenced — by America.
But Israel cannot be complacent either.
Remez told me he doesn’t know whether Putin, the ex-KGB man, knew of the recruitment of the future Palestinian leader in the early 1980s. But Abbas’ direct KGB handler at the time was Nikolai Bogdanov, and that’s just as crucial.
After all, Bogdanov, a top Mideast hand at the Kremlin, is now one of Putin’s closest aides, serving as special envoy to the Israeli-Palestinian dispute. He is the main player in orchestrating the Moscow peace parlay. “As we speak, Bogdanov is working with the Israelis and Palestinians,” trying to coax them to come to Moscow, Remez says.
So Abbas is an old, ahem, acquaintance. But Israelis should also worry about how Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu increasingly consults with Putin, Remez says: “It’s a mistake to see the Russians as our allies.”
But let’s remember: The main reason Putin’s influence is growing is that for nearly a decade America has decided to watch from the sidelines one of the most transformative periods in the modern history of the Mideast. The vacuum America has left has driven some of our closest allies and friends to the arms of the former spymaster.
And now, in addition to that loss of influence, we’re placing a diplomatic bet on a leader who has been exposed as a former Kremlin agent.
There are no friends in international relations. Only interests.

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