Tinker, tailor, president, spy? Palestinians deny Abbas was 'Soviet-mole'

Tinker, tailor, president, spy? Palestinians deny Abbas was 'Soviet-mole'
4 min read
08 September, 2016
A spokesman for the Palestinian President has dismissed the accusation he was a KGB spy as a "smear campaign", ahead of a meeting between Abbas and Netanyahu in Moscow.
Were Abbas (L) and Putin (R) once colleagues at the KGB? [Getty]
A spokesman for Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas has refuted a claim by researchers that he worked as a Soviet agent in Damascus in the 1980s describing the accusation as a smear campaign intended to undermine a Russian peace initiative.

The claim was levelled in a report on Israeli public television on Wednesday night which cited two researchers currently studying the so-called Mitrokhin papers currently kept at Cambridge University’s Churchill Archives Centre.

Abbas was born in what was then British mandate Palestine. However, his family sought refuge in Syria during the 1948 war that lead to the creation of the state of Israel.

"In 1983, he (Abbas) is listed as being groomed by the KGB under the codename Krotov, the mole," one of the Israeli researchers, Isabella Ginor, told the programme.

However Abbas spokesman Nabil Abu Rudeineh dismissed the claim, telling AFP that the accusation "falls under the framework of Israeli absurdities which we have got used to."

Notably, the televised report did not clarify what Abbas is alleged to have done for the Soviets.

"It is clear Israel is troubled by the (Palestinians') strategic relationship with Russia and by the clear and announced Russian position, which is to solve the Palestinian-Israeli conflict on the basis on an independent Palestinian state and the right of self-determination for our people," Abu Rudeineh said.
"Every Arab leader in the Middle East was at a certain stage of his life an agent of superpower"
The Mitrokhin Archive is based on Soviet spy agency KGB files that were smuggled to Britain by Major Vasili Mitrokhin. Mitrokhin, a senior archivist in the KGB’s foreign intelligence department between 1972 and 1984 became disillusioned with domestic Soviet oppression, secretly copied information by hand, before defecting with it to Britain in 1992.

The report comes at a time when Russian President Vladimir Putin is seeking to arrange a face-to-face meeting between Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu.

Putin's Middle East envoy Mikhail Bogdanov met with both Netanyahu and Palestinian officials this week.

Bogdanov, the television report noted, was stationed in Damascus between 1983 and 1989.

It is not the first accusation of spying that Abbas has faced this year. In late July an advisor to Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif claimed that Abbas had, at one time, been on the CIA payroll.

“The previous records of Abbas and the approaches he has adopted clearly prove that he is a US hireling. The documents of his cooperation with the US were discovered in the Spy Nest [the US embassy in Tehran], and it was made clear that he was an agent of US Central Intelligence Agency [CIA],” claimed Hossein Sheikholeslam,  Iranian politician and the current advisor to the foreign minister Javad Zarif.

Sheikholeslam’s accusations came after Abbas reportedly met with Maryam Rajavi, head of the Mujahedin-e Khalq, a Marxist Iranian opposition group outlawed from operating in Iran, in Paris on July 30.
During the Cold War it was not uncommon for PLO officials to exchange information with Russia

No official comment on the accusation has been made by Israel. However, a correspondent from The New Arab’s sister site Al-Araby Al-Jadeed said that the claim had been given short thrift by Israeli officials who pointed out that during the Cold War it was not uncommon for PLO officials to exchange information with Russia.

"Every Arab leader in the Middle East was at a certain stage of his life an agent of superpower," said former National Security Council head General Yaakov Ami, in comments published in Maariv.

The Israeli daily further quoted Israeli researcher Ayran Lerman, who stated that Abbas was amongst the first politicians to recognise the collapse of the Soviet Union and persuade other PLO figures towards dialogue with the Reagan and Bush administrations and their allies. 
On Monday a Palestinian official said that Abbas had agreed on a Russian proposal to meet with Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu as part of a new push towards a peace agreement.

Netanyahu has said that he is prepared to meet Abbas at any time, and in any place, providing there are no preconditions.

Previously, Palestinian leaders have called for the release of prisoners, a deadline for the end of the occupation of the West Bank and a freeze to Israeli settlement building as pre-conditions for talks.

It remains unclear whether Abbas still maintains this stance.

(Agencies contributed to this report)