Soviet files "surprise": Abbas a KGB mole?

More than a quarter-century after the collapse of the Soviet Union, its archives still produce a surprise or two — perhaps uncomfortable surprises for those who outlasted it. Two researchers have found evidence in old Soviet documents that Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas worked as a KGB mole in the early 1980s. In fact, his code name was the Russian word for “mole,” assuming that these documents are on the level:

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas was a Syrian-based KGB agent in 1983, according to an Israeli news report citing Soviet archives.

A document from the Mitrokhin Archive that was obtained by two Israeli researchers contains a note that refers to Abbas with the code name “Krotov,” or “Mole,” according to the Israeli Broadcasting Authority’s Channel 1.

The document — which was studied by scholars Isabela Ginor and Gideon Remez — lists Palestinian operatives who worked for the KGB in Damascus — explicitly stating that Abbas was an operative in Syria.

The Palestinians wasted no time in issuing a denial, calling the report “malarkey.” They accuse Israel of attempting to derail efforts to hold a summit meeting between Abbas and Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu that would take place — coincidentally or not — in Russia:

Responding to the report that Mahmoud Abbas was a KGB agent in Syria in 1983, a top Palestinian official says its all malarkey tied to the failed bid for a Netanyahu-Abbas meeting in Moscow.

Fatah apparatchik Nabil Shaath calls the report a hollow attempt to evade the Russian invite for a summit in Moscow, according to Israel radio reporter Gal Berger.

“He was not an agent of the KGB or any other intelligence agency,” Shaath says.

As surprises go, this would be on the mild end of the spectrum. In 1983, Abbas was working with Yasser Arafat in the PLO, which had significant support from the Soviets, and in particular the KGB. Arafat had made overtures to the Kremlin almost since the PLO’s founding in 1964. A decade later, the PLO opened an embassy in Moscow, and four years after that the Soviets recognized PLO and Arafat as the only legitimate leadership of Palestinians. The KGB facilitated arms transfers and military training during this period. The only real surprise might be why the KGB would need a “mole” in the organization at all; it was clearly oriented toward the Kremlin.

But are these documents legitimate? Earlier forays into what were supposedly KGB archives turned out later to be forgeries used for disinformation purposes. A 2014 exposé from Forbes points out the sophistication of those efforts … and a surprising tie to Abbas as well:

In a 2011 arbitration hearing, Epstein presented his analysis, prompting Aliyev to admit, under cross-examination, that he “received the documents from KNB sources in Kazakhstan.” KNB is the abbreviation for the re-named Kazakhstan KGB: “Aliyev also testified that the KNB offices in Kazakhstan have the capability of fabricating documents, according to legal documents.”

Aliyev’s two admissions, along with analysis from Epstein and former Europol director Max-Peter Ratzel, caused Aliyev lawyers to withdraw the documents on which they had based their cases.

But Aliyev’s stream of forgeries had snarled hearings and legal proceedings on two continents, initially confusing journalists and jurists.

Working through his in-laws – Issam Hourani and his brother (both of whom are cousins of Mahmud Abbas, the head of the Palestinian Authority) – Aliyev introduced what attorneys call “forgery-based litigation” as plaintiffs in London’s High Court, World Bank tribunals in Paris, and a U.S. District Court in Washington, DC. Judges in each case discovered the forgeries and the documents were withdrawn.

Maybe we should ask Abbas to check with his family on the validity of these documents, eh? Bottom line: Wait for the claims to withstand some academic rigor … and even then, don’t think it changes much.

Speaking of which, the proposed talks in Russia are just that — proposed. Abbas accused Netanyahu of dodging a meeting, but Netanyahu says he’ll meet with Abbas as long as the PA president agrees to do so without preconditions:

“President Putin offered to meet in Moscow on September 9,” Abbas said. “I agreed. I was to fly to Moscow from here (Warsaw) to meet with Prime Minister Netanyahu. Unfortunately, in talks held in Jerusalem yesterday between representatives of President Putin and Prime Minister Netanyahu, the Israeli representative proposed to postpone this meeting.”

“So, the meeting will not take place,” Abbas complained, telling reporters, “I am prepared to travel to Moscow or any other country for the next meeting, since dialogue is the only way to peace for the Palestinian people and the only opportunity for our independent country to live side by side with Israel.”

Speaking at a joint press conference with Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte, Prime Minister Netanyahu said, “I am prepared to meet with Abbas at any time for direct talks without preconditions. I have said this hundreds of times and I am reiterating it now. I do not care about the place, be it in Holland, Moscow or anywhere else – this is not a problem, and it certainly could be in Moscow. I have said this to President Putin. I said this on Sunday to his envoy Bogdanov.”

“The main question is, of course,” Netanyahu said, “whether Abbas is prepared to meet without preconditions. We hear contradictory reports about this. Just yesterday, Palestinian spokespersons made it clear that they are ready to meet but they have conditions – releasing prisoners, they want to know if the talks will have results, etc. If Abbas is ready to meet for direct talks without preconditions, I am ready at any time. I have been calling on him to do this for almost seven years already and if he agrees to do this – there will be a meeting.”

Russia confirms that they have offered to host the meeting, but denies that an agreement to hold one had been reached. That’s not surprising, either, including the fact that the US appears to be washing its hands of the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. Backing the wrong horse in the Israeli elections can wreak havoc on one’s influence.