How Far Would SVR-Mossad Collaboration Go to Fight ISIS?
History supplied some evocative landmark moments on June 1 when the Director of the Israeli Mossad Yossi Cohen stepped into the office of Mikhail Yefimovich Fradkov, the Head of the Russian SVR, at its Yasenevo headquarters outside Moscow. With nine years in the post behind him, Fradkov is the world’s longest-running spy chief
1. Even though Russian and Israeli intelligence chiefs had met several times before, this was their first encounter ever at the Yasenevo headquarters.
2. Yasenevo will always be remembered as the headquarters of the Russian KGB, notoriously fabled in film, books and Cold War intelligence history. In that era, the Israeli Mossad was quietly ranked by the KGB’s First Chief Foreign Directorate counter espionage arm among its most stubborn foes, second only to the American CIA and the British MI6 Secret Service, for resisting all Soviet efforts at penetration, in contrast to the US and British services.
3. Now, 25 years after Soviet Russia's collapse, the two counter espionage agencies' heads held talks for the first time inside the inner sanctum of Russian intelligence – an occasion that emanated directly from the understanding reached between President Vladimir Putin and Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu to deepen military and intelligence cooperation between their countries.
4. Islamist terror and the war on ISIS was one of the topics they discussed. It just so happened that on that day, terror struck close to home: Yossi Cohen's cousin, 48 years-old Rabbi Michael Marc, father of ten, was murdered in a Palestinian shooting attack while driving with his family on a Hebron road.
5. Other than the war against terror, the two spy chiefs have in common the fact that both have Jewish fathers.
Their discussion on ways and means for their intelligence apparatuses to combine resources took place at a precarious time for both countries, DEBKA Weekly’s counter terror sources note.
Three foreign nationals – a Russian, an Uzbek and a Kyrgyz – carried out the shooting and triple suicide bombing at Atatürk airport in Istanbul on June 28. One was identified as Osman Vadinov, a Chechen from the Russian republic of Dagestan, who reportedly entered Turkey on his Russian passport about a month ago. He had crossed in from Raqqa, the ISIS stronghold in Syria, at least once in 2015 and is suspected of having ties with jihadi cells inside Turkey.
The suspected mastermind of the airport attack was an ISIS commander of Chechen origin called Akhmed Chatayev, described by the US Treasury Department as “the commander of the Yarmouk Battalion.”
Chatayev is said to be responsible for the recruiting and training of Russian-speaking radicals for the Islamic State. In 2015, he was added to the US government’s list of specially-designated global terrorists, and is also on Russia’s list of wanted terrorists.
President Vladimir Putin senses that his worst fears are coming to pass, namely, that Russians who enlisted with ISIS to fight in Syria are beginning to return home for missions of terror.
Israel is becoming vulnerable to the same menace. There is increasing evidence in the past month that Palestinian terrorists sympathetic to the Islamic State, some of whom have ISIS connections across the border in Jordan, are getting ready to carry out mass attacks in Israel.
(On July 4, Debkafile counter terror sources published an exclusive report that the IDF and the Shin Bet have video footage and photos showing eight members of a Palestinian terrorist cell in the Mt. Hebron village of Yatah ceremonially pledging allegiance to ISIS and Abu Bakr al Baghdadi, before mounting an attack on a Tel Aviv market.)
At the same time, intelligence-sharing between the Russian SVR and the Israeli Mossad for combating terror faces two hard questions:
a) Such cooperation would bare at least some of their methods of operation and high-tech devices, which would go against the very essence of any spy service. So how much would the two partners be prepared to expose for the common goal, given their long history of bitter rivalry?
b) Overarching its need to keep terrorists from Syria far from Russia’s borders, Moscow’s war on ISIS is also subject to considerations of its global policies and interests, which are not shared by Israel. So would the Mossad be willing to address some of Russia’s global concerns for the sake of fighting Islamist terror – in the same way that the Israeli spy agency served the CIA in the Cold War era?