Gideon Remez, a researcher at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem’s Truman Institute, has discovered a link between Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and the old Soviet KGB. Abbas received his PhD in Moscow in 1982 and, according to documents smuggled out of Russia in 1991, became an asset for the KGB shortly after.
Some of the material, now in the Churchill Archives of Britain’s Cambridge University, was released two years ago for public research, and the Truman Institute requested a file marked “the Middle East”, Remez told Reuters.
“There’s a group of summaries or excerpts there that all come under a headline of persons cultivated by the KGB in the year 1983,” he said.
“Now one of these items is all of two lines … it starts with the codename of the person, ‘Krotov’, which is derived from the Russian word for ‘mole’, and then ‘Abbas, Mahmoud, born 1935 in Palestine, member of the central committee of Fatah and the PLO, in Damascus ‘agent of the KGB’,” Remez said.
Abbas is a founding member of Fatah, the dominant faction of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), the main Palestinian nationalist movement. He became Palestinian president in 2005.
The documents cited by Remez did not give any indication of what role Abbas may have played for the KGB or the duration of his purported service as an agent.
A Palestinian official, who declined to be identified as he was not authorised to speak publicly on the matter, said that Abbas had served as an “official liaison with the Soviets, so he hardly needed to be a spy”, without elaborating.
The official said any suggestion that the president was a spy was “absolutely absurd”.
Adding to the intrigue, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov, whom Putin has tasked with arranging the Moscow summit, served two stints in the Soviet embassy in Damascus between 1983 and 1994, covering the period in which Abbas was purportedly recruited.
Bogdanov was in the area this week for meetings with Israeli and Palestinian officials.
This really isn’t very shocking, considering what we know about how the KGB operates. They preferred quantity to quality, as we discovered in the Venona Intercepts. Hundreds of Americans showed up in the cables — some dupes, some traitors, and probably some U.S. citizens who were innocent but whose names were passed along to Moscow in order to impress the bosses back home.
It’s difficult to see how much value Abbas would have had in 1982 as a recent grad. In Fatah alone, they probably had far more valuable sources. But he was almost certainly a ripe target for recruitment: a bright, young man obviously on the make who would make a valuable resource inside the PLO.
As mentioned above, it’s not known if Abbas ever passed anything along to Moscow or if he continued as an asset after the fall of communism. And as far as the Israelis stirring the pot in advance of any negotiations in Moscow, I think that can be discounted. There really isn’t very much to stir the pot with. Adding “KGB asset” to Abbas’s resume seems small indeed when you consider he made his bones as a terrorist in the PLO.