Russia on Friday confirmed it had expelled the military attaché at Israel’s embassy in Moscow on suspicion of espionage, saying the official was trying to get information about Russia’s military cooperation with Arab countries.
Vadim Leiderman was detained on May 12, the Federal Security Service (FSB) said in a rare statement. Israeli media reports said he was held while meeting with a Russian army officer at a Moscow café and was then interrogated by the FSB agents, declared persona non grata and ordered to leave the country within 48 hours. Israeli security officials have called the accusation of espionage “baseless and false.”
“The available documentary materials fully expose his hostile activities against the Russian Federation,” the FSB statement said. “Leiderman tried to obtain classified information from a number of Russian government officials about the prospects of bilateral military-technical cooperation and aid to a number of Arab and CIS countries.” (CIS refers to ex-Soviet states.)
Russia and Israel maintain close relations, despite the fact that Russia is among the main suppliers of arms to countries like Israeli foes Syria and Iran.
The FSB statement criticized Israel for leaking the story of Leiderman’s deportation, which was revealed this week, one week after it took place. “It is necessary to note that the Russian side, in order to avoid the formulation of a negative public opinion against Israel, in a gesture of good will, took the decision to refrain from disclosing the existence of Israeli spying activities to the harm of our country. But, as has happened before, a deliberate leak was made to the Israelis ‘in anticipation of’ tendentious material in the press, which cannot but cause serious misunderstandings.”
A senior Israeli defense official said Israel would review its military contracts with Russia in the wake of the scandal, the Jerusalem Post reported. A Russian source quoted by the paper took a different view: “This will be in the news for a couple of days, and then everyone will forget.”