Saturday, November 04, 2006

The Enemy Within

In Haaretz, an article analysing the history and role of the little-known Israeli security organization Nativ. As the authors of the article show, Israel is threatened not only from outside, but also by elements within its own security services. These allies of the ultra-rightist Avigdor Lieberman, who recently became Israel’s Deputy Prime Minister, seek to exploit the connections between Israel and Russia which originally came into being during the Soviet period, but are now being used for geopolitical ends by the Kremlin and its allies within Israel itself. Under Lieberman’s influence, there is pressure from some intelligence officials for the expansion and revitalization of Nativ.

The article focuses on the person and biography of one of these:
Zvi Magen was born in the Soviet Union in 1945 to parents of Polish extraction. He immigrated to Israel in 1960, living in Kibbutz Gan Shmuel as an “external child.” He did his army service in the Armored Corps and then joined a settlement group in Kibbutz Eyal. In 1970, he returned to the IDF, serving in the Intelligence Corps, initially in the central collection unit, 8200, then in the research section, where he was occupied with several sectors, including the eastern and the northern. He left the IDF in 1978 with the rank of lieutenant colonel.

Magen’s knowledge of Russian and his experience as an intelligence officer caught the eye of David Bar-Tov, then head of Nativ. Magen joined the organization, holding posts in the research and intelligence section and then the staff branch, eventually reaching the position of deputy chief of Nativ.

He was part of the second Nativ team that was sent to the Soviet Union, in 1988. Until the opening of the Israeli embassy, the Nativ personnel and the Foreign Ministry operated from the Netherlands embassy, which represented Israel’s interests. In 1993, Magen moved to the Foreign Ministry and was appointed ambassador to Ukraine and, in 1998, to Moscow. He held the latter post for about a year and a half until the prime minister asked him to return to Nativ, this time as its chief.
Particularly noteworthy is Magen’s attitude towards Vladimir Putin, which - the article suggests - “borders on admiration”, and is expressed in his assessment of the Russian leader:
“In the KGB Putin was the director of a cultural center in Dresden, in East Germany. Effectively, he was Nativ. He is very professional and I have only positive things to say about him. We met a few times when I was ambassador and he was in the presidential apparatus, and afterward head of the FSB. In all the meetings with me he displayed extraordinary friendship for Israel. My impression was that he has esteem for Israel and for your faithful servant. In 1999, when I concluded my term as ambassador to Moscow, he came to my farewell reception, which took place the day before he was appointed prime minister. It was very unusual for a person like him to come to the farewell reception for an ambassador.”
However, there are obvious problems. The authors comment:
The relationship between Putin and Israel is currently being put to the test. About a month ago, Israel sent a delegation to Moscow headed by the director of the Euro-Asia Department, Mark Sofer. The delegation showed the Russians evidence of how Russian weapons found their way to Hezbollah - photographs of 39 antitank weapons and of packages that were seized by Israeli soldiers, original shipping documents and more. The arms sales will not stop, but the Russians are promising that they will take more care to ensure that they get only to the “end C user” for whom they are intended.

According to Magen, the Israeli revelations “quite embarrassed the Russians.” However, he believes that Israel has very limited ability to change the Russians’ arms sales policy in the Middle East.
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