Mahmoud Abbas and Other Soviet Ghosts
What the revelation of Abbas’s KGB service tells us about the Russian game of subversion.
Originally published by the Jerusalem Post.
Channel 1’s report Wednesday that in 1983, current Palestinian Authority Chairman and PLO chief Mahmoud Abbas served as a KGB agent is hardly the story of the year, but it does remind us of certain half-forgotten facts about the Cold War that are becoming ever more relevant today.
The PLO’s close and servile relationship with the KGB was first exposed in a systematic way in 1987, with the publication of Red Horizons: Chronicles of a Communist Spy Chief, the exposé of Soviet and Romanian Cold War operations written by former Romanian intelligence chief Lt.-Gen. Ion Pacepa. Pacepa, who defected to the US in 1978 after serving as the head of the DIE – Romania’s KGB – was the highest ranking intelligence officer from the Soviet bloc to ever defect.
In his book, Pacepa revealed that “the PLO was dreamt up by the KGB.”
Pacepa explained how Romanian dictator Nicolae Ceausescu, at the direction of Moscow, convinced Yasser Arafat to employ political warfare, centered on phony protestations that he had abandoned terrorism, to weaken the West’s resolve to defend itself and to cause Israel to doubt its own legitimacy.
Wednesday’s Channel 1 report on Abbas was based on new revelations from the Mitrokhin Archive. Vasili Mitrokhin was a senior archivist in the KGB who surreptitiously copied KGB documents for many years and hid his copies in his home. In 1991 Mitrokhin defected to Britain and took his archive of 25,000 copies of documents with him.
In 2004, the second volume of his edited archive was published. The volume, titled, The World Was Going Our Way: The KGB and the Battle for the Third World, focused on the KGB’s efforts to use the Third World as a strategic weapon in its battle against the West. The volume devotes two chapters to the KGB’s campaign against Israel.
Mitrokhin revealed that for the KGB, Israel was a target of subversion second only in importance to the US. The KGB fielded multiple political agents on the Israeli Left and multiple Palestinian agents in the PLO’s terrorist nexus.
According to the Channel 1 report, Abbas began his official service for the KGB in 1983.
In truth his KGB ties were already longstanding by 1983.
In 1982 Abbas received a doctorate from the Patrice Lumumba University – or KGB U – in Moscow. According to KGB defectors, 90 percent of the university’s faculty and staff received their paychecks from the KGB. Its purpose was to train KGB agents from the developing world, including terrorists. Abbas’s fellow alumni included master terrorist Carlos the Jackal and future Iranian dictator Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
Abbas received a doctorate for a thesis denying the Holocaust. That is, he used the cover of academia to vilify the Jewish state and deny Jewish history and suffering – a practice that has been his stock in trade in trade ever since.
Rather than devote his energies to murdering Israelis, along the lines of the subversive program Ceausescu presented to Arafat, Abbas’s main focus was the subversion of the European and the Israeli Left.
Until the mid-1970s, Arab terrorists were unable to make inroads in Israel because there were no significant political forces in Israeli society that questioned the justice and morality of the state or saw the PLO as anything other than a terrorist organization bent on the annihilation of Israel and the massacre of its citizens.
The situation changed with the rise of the Likud and the Right to power in 1977. As the Likud supplanted Labor as the largest party in Israel, the far Left became more susceptible to subversion.
Abbas focused his efforts on developing ties to the Israeli far Left. His efforts culminated in the 1993 Oslo peace deal which Abbas negotiated with Israeli leftist activists affiliated with then-foreign minister Shimon Peres through his deputy Yossi Beilin.
The PLO’s success in convincing the Rabin- Peres government that it had abandoned its goal of annihilating Israel came two years after the demise of the Soviet Union. In other words, the KGB’s campaign of anti-Western subversion outlived the Soviet Union.
Indeed it carries on with ever greater force and consequence. Today, the subversive campaigns that first bore fruits in the Vietnam War have brought about a situation where increasingly, Western elites cannot accept the basic morality of their societies.
Consider the case of NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick. Last month Kaepernick caused a public outcry when he refused to stand up for the US national anthem at the beginning of a football game. Kaepernick defended himself by arguing that the US is immoral. “I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color,” he said.
Rather than defend the US against his assault and insist that its symbols required respect, President Barack Obama said only that Kaepernick had a right to his opinion.
Then there is Germany. This week Chancellor Angela Merkel’s CDU party came in third place in regional elections on Merkel’s home turf behind the far-right, anti-immigration AfD party.
Merkel’s political collapse owes entirely to her refusal to budge on her open border policies.
That policy enabled more than a million, predominantly Muslim, immigrants to stream into Germany last year. An additional 300,000 are expected this year.
Merkel’s associates claim that she operates under the conviction that Germany’s Nazi past precludes any attempt to protect German society from Muslim immigrants. For Merkel, Germany is inherently immoral and therefore has no right to defend its identity or culture.
The sense among Western elites that Western culture and history as a whole are morally impaired has dampened their concern about their future. This diminished commitment to securing their societies into the future is most apparent in the West’s fertility rates, which have been below replacement rate for more than a decade. Last year for the first time, deaths in Europe outnumbered births.
The situation is similarly fraught on the other side of the former Iron Curtain. Russian society was economically and culturally broken by the Soviet defeat in the Cold War and by its post- Cold War leadership’s inability to present a life-affirming vision for a new Russia.
In some ways, post-Cold War Russia is the mirror image of the subverted West. While Western leftists insist on adopting the socialist economics of swelled welfare states, which given demographic realities are unsustainable in the long-term, to expiate their guilt for capitalism and colonialism, Russia’s leaders have largely abandoned their people to their fate.
Russia spends a bit more than a third of what OECD countries spend on public health. And the low investment shows.
According to the World Health Organization, a third of all deaths in Russia in 2012 were caused by alcohol. Russian male life expectancy is 64 – lower than it was a hundred years ago.
Drug addiction rates are soaring, as are HIV infection rates.
Like the Europeans, Russians have lost interest in the future, which increasingly will not include a Russia. With fertility rates below replacement levels, the UN estimates that by 2060, Russia’s working age population will have shrunk by 15 percent.
Due to the scarcity of workers, like Europe, Russia is experiencing massive, predominantly Muslim immigration. Russian immigration levels are second only to the US. In response, xenophobia is a large and growing social force in Russia.
According to David Satter, author of the recently released, The Less You Know, the Better You Sleep: Russia’s Road to Terror and Dictatorship under Yeltsin and Putin, Russia’s gloomy prospects, reinforced by the long-term outlook for reduced oil and gas prices, have brought about a situation where President Vladimir Putin and his associates do not think about the long-term future of their country. Their international considerations, specifically, are based on their assessments of immediate potential payoffs.
Since the Russian leadership doesn’t suffer from the civilizational neurosis the Soviets inflicted on the West, like the Soviet leaders before him, Putin’s short-term game empowers him to adopt policies with potentially high short-term payoffs regardless of the long-term dangers they create. Russia’s policies in Syria and toward Iran are case in point.
On the other side of the divide in Europe, the elites devote their remaining days in power to absolving themselves of imperialist and capitalist guilt. To this end, they have adopted the causes of those they falsely believe were most victimized by their predecessors.
The same is true, albeit to a lesser degree, in the US.
This then brings us back to KGB agent Abbas and his target, Israel.
Against great odds, and at a steep price, over the past 10 years Israeli society stopped listening to the voices on the Left parroting Abbas’s lies that Israel was born in sin, as a Western colonialist implant. Given the stakes, most Israelis today also have come to realize that our national self-confidence is a vital component of our long-term survival.
This understanding, along with a clear-eyed assessment of what drives our interlocutors in Moscow, Paris, New York and Brussels, must inform our foreign policy in the coming years.
When faced with foreign governments whose societies lack long-term prospects, Israel needs to put aside its yearning for long-term peace and stability and focus on short-term cooperative ties. It must also recognize that our partners’ interests are subject to change at a moment’s notice.
The revelation of Abbas’s KGB service requires us to recognize that the Soviets’ long game of subversion continues on today. Whether or not Western societies persevere and reject the Soviets’ central contention that they are unworthy of survival is not for Israel to decide. So, too, Israel will not convince the Russians to embrace a future based on freedom and the sanctity of life.
All we can do is wish them the best and play the short-term game with them – while keeping our long-term interests front and center in our minds.