Terrorism, Jew-Hatred and Lies: The Soviet Contribution to the Middle East
July 12, 2012 3 Comments
“This book, I am proud to say, proceeds from grand theft aggravated by high treason”.
So begins Pavel Stroilov in Behind the Desert Storm, one of the most important and informative books I have read in a long time, and one that could change many a reader’s understanding of the Middle East.
Stroilov is a Russian dissident researcher and historian, who smuggled a vast secret archive of 50,000 documents from the Soviet era out of Russia. In the dying days of the Soviet Union, it was Mikhail Gorbachev who illegally took these documents from the Kremlin, keeping them within the Gorbachev Foundation where Stroilov was employed. A furious Putin administration learned of their existence in 2003 and forced Gorbachev to bury them. Yet Stroilov had managed, with modest manipulations in the Foundations computer system, to turn his very limited access to the documents into an unlimited one shortly before. He now lives in London, working to make what he discovered public.
The documents revealed in this book paint Soviet expansionism as the root of most of the strife in the Middle East. The most interesting ones cover the covert Soviet war against Israel, the Soviet-Egyptian relationship and how it worked to spread socialist revolutions throughout the region, the struggle for Iran and the Persian Gulf as well as the duplicitous dealings of the First Gulf War.
Firstly, the Soviets did not have much success in the grand prize of the region – the Persian Gulf. The Western powers relied on it heavily for their energy needs, and the British demonstrated how committed they were to keeping it in the Western camp when they sent troops into Kuwait in 1961 to defend it from the Iraqi leader Abd al-Karim Qasim. After this, the Soviets “postponed the conquest of the Gulf… although some of them were sorely disappointed with that decision.”
They did much better in Egypt, which with the Soviet-friendly Nasser became the bridgehead of Soviet expansion in the Middle East. In the 1950s and 1960s, the pro-Western regimes in Syria, Tunisia, Iraq, Algeria, Yemen, and Libya were, like Egypt itself, overthrown in Soviet and Egyptian backed coups. Save for a few pro-Western oases such as Israel or the Gulf monarchies, the Middle East was dyed Red.
The Soviet empire has collapsed, but what Stroilov calls the “Red Arab” regimes survived, like so many minefields of past wars that nobody bothered to clear. The Soviet client states were socialist regimes, and sooner or later socialism exhausts economies and the patience of the populations who dwell in them. Stroilov argues that the mines have finally exploded in the recent unrest across the Middle East, dubbed either the Arab Spring or the Islamist Winter depending on your point of view. Stroilov may be stretching his analysis, but it is interesting that it is the more socialist, secular and formerly Pan-Arabist states like Libya that have seen successful coups and the most internal strife. The more traditional monarchies have fared much better.
Even Mubarak, who cemented Egypt’s peace with the West, is revealed to be a true Soviet at heart. His secret conversations with Gorbachev revealed in this book make fantastic reading. Mubarak envisaged a day when the Soviet and Egyptian economies would recover from the malaise they faced at the time, and once again stand against America, capitalism and Israel. He appears to have genuinely felt communism could be rescued. However, he expressed his relief that most of Egypt’s agricultural land was still privately owned, because Khrushchev, in strictest secrecy, advised Nasser in 1964 not to implement collective farming. Mubarak openly admitted he backed the coalition against Saddam Hussein in the Gulf Crisis because he wished to ensure the continued flow of American aid, and hoped to get tens of billions of Egyptian government debt written off (which indeed happened). Mubarak informed Gorbachev that Egyptian government debt amounted to “50 billion dollars… But we can always negotiate on the debts and get postponement of payments again and again. Nowadays, almost nobody repays debts”.
Later at the same meeting, Mubarak said: “I would like to tell you that we continue military cooperation with the USA. They give us $1,3 bn. aid. We still cannot do without it: we need spare parts for military equipment, and so on. But time will come when things turn in different direction. I am telling this to you absolutely frankly”.
Some of the most unsettling revelations in this book are centered around the operation codenamed “SIG”, for Sionistskiye Gosudarstva, or “Zionist Governments”. States Stroilov:
Though not as good as the Gulf oil fields, Israel would also be a big prize. It was the only democracy in the region, the strongest military power in the pro-Western camp and, indeed, the bridgehead of the Western world. Even more importantly, the very process of crusading (or jihadding) against Israel offered fantastic political opportunities. A besieged Israel effectively meant millions of Jewish hostages in the hands of the comrades, and the threat of genocide could intimidate the West into making great concessions in the Gulf or elsewhere. On the other hand, by making the Israeli-Palestinian conflict the central problem of the Middle East, the Soviets could exploit Arab nationalism, anti-Semitism, and even Islamic religious feelings to mobilize support for their policies. Indeed, under the banner of Arab solidarity, the socialist influence in the region grew far beyond the socialist regimes and parties.
General Ion Mihai Pacepa, the highest ranking defector from the Soviet Bloc, recalls a conversation he had in 1972, as the head of Romania’s intelligence service, with the KGB chairman Yuri Andropov:
We needed to instill a Nazi-style hatred for the Jews throughout the Islamic world… No one within the American/Zionist sphere of influence should any longer feel safe…
According to Andropov, the Islamic world was a waiting petri dish in which we could nurture a virulent strain of hatred, grown from the bacterium of Marxist-Leninist thought. Islamic anti-Semitism ran deep. The Muslims had a taste for nationalism, jingoism, and victimology. Their illiterate, oppressed mobs could be whipped up to a fever pitch… We had only to keep repeating our themes – that the United States and Israel were “fascist, imperial-Zionist countries” bankrolled by rich Jews… whose aim was to subordinate the entire Islamic world…
In the mid 1970s, the KGB ordered my service, the DIE – along with other East European sister services – to scour the country for trusted Party activists belonging to various Islamic ethnic groups, train them in disinformation and terrorist operations, and infiltrate them into the countries of our “sphere of influence”… According to a rough estimate received from Moscow, by 1978 the whole Soviet-bloc intelligence community had sent some 4,000 such agents of influence into the Islamic world.
In the mid 1970s we also started showering the Islamic world with an Arabic translation of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, a tsarist Russian forgery that had been used by Hitler as the foundation for his anti-Semitic philosophy. We also disseminated a KGB-fabricated “documentary” paper in Arabic alleging that Israel and its main supporter, the United States, were Zionist countries dedicated to converting the Islamic world into a Jewish colony.
With the defeat of the Soviet-backed Egyptians and Syrians in the Six Day War, the Soviets realised a change of tactics was required in their war on Israel. Gen. Alexander Sakharovsky, head of the KGB’s intelligence arm, told his intelligence colleagues that “[W]hen nuclear arms have made military force obsolete, terrorism should become our main weapon.”
Sakharovsky even boasted that airplane hijackings were his own invention. Stroilov reveals that “his personal office decoration at KGB headquarters was a large world map, covered with countless red flags, each pinned by Sakharovsky to mark a successful hijacking”. Though the PLO itself united dozens of terrorist organizations, the supreme headquarters of the whole network was, of course, the Kremlin, and Stroilov claims “the evidence accumulated at this point leaves no doubt that the whole system was invented by Moscow as a weapon against the West, and the PLO was a jewel in their crown”. In the KGB, the PLO was known under the codename “Karusel”, or “merry-go-round” in Russian.
On Zionism, the Soviets practiced what they preached. It was a non-approved aspect of Jewish identity, like the Jewish religion, and was thus suppressed. In the USSR, Hebrew was banned. In fact, they even attempted to ban the traditional Yiddish alphabet based on Hebrew. Prominent Jews were forced to sign their names to articles denouncing Zionism, including the legendary ballerina Maya Plisetstkaya, who was threatened with losing her touring privileges. Soviet anti-Zionist propaganda spread to Communist movements all over the world, and its effects still linger on.
Enter the Ayatollahs, and here again conventional views of the Middle East are demolished. Stroilov argues that the 1979 revolution was a carefully prepared Communist revolution that went awry and got hijacked by Shiite fanatics. After the Second World War, Soviet forces withdrew from Iran under Western pressure, but left behind an espionage network bigger than any other in the world. The standard ratio of KGB residencies (stations) was one per country. In Iran, the Soviets had nearly forty residencies and sub-residencies. They worked for the next 33 years against the Shah. The KGB trained numerous agents from the Soviet republics of Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan who could pass as members of Iran’s ethnic groups and help set up KGB residencies on Iranian territory. Both the KGB and the Iranian Communist Party made failed attempts on the Shah’s life.
The man in charge of the Tehran KGB residency, the secret army of phony Iranians, and financing the Communist Party was Najor Vladimir Kuzichkin. He worked out of the Soviet Embassy. In July of 1978, Yuri Andropov gave personal instructions to KGB operatives in Tehran to step up their campaign. The banned Communist Party resumed its operations through various proxies and fronts, very much in the style of communist movements. In September, as the protests in Iran escalated into riots, British Prime Minister James Callaghan told his Cabinet that “we must continue to support the Shah against the mad mullahs and the Soviet agents who are opposing him”. Tony Benn, then Energy Secretary, noted in his diaries that the American and British establishments were fully behind the Shah, and “the primary reason” was “to keep the Russians out of Iran”.
What Callaghan did not tell the Cabinet was that Vladimir Kuzichkin, the most important KGB spymaster in Iran, was secretly working for MI6. All the information about the KGBs network in Iran, the activities of the underground Communist Party, the Soviets posing as Iranians – was leaked to the British. The British shared this with SAVAK, but by then it was too late. The mad mullahs eventually captured SAVAK’s records, and the Soviets lost everything overnight. Every last Soviet agent was rounded up, and the communists went to the gallows, not into government.
A humorous incident is worth recounting here. When Ayatollah Khomenei heard the news about Gorbachev being a great reformer, he dispatched another ayatollah to deliver a handwritten letter to him. The exact content of the letter is unknown, “but the whole Politburo is on record laughing their heads off when reading it” says Stroilov. Transcripts of later meetings of the Politburo indicate the Iranians urged Gorbachev to convert to Islam.
Stroilov wishes to destroy the standard narrative of the First Gulf War, which involves the Soviet Union and the United States putting their differences aside and engaging in historic cooperation to stop the menace Saddam Hussein in Kuwait, ushering in a new era global harmony and a New World Order. The real story is that Gorbachev and others, such as Mitterand in France and Mubarak in Egypt, only went into the anti-Saddam coalition to prevent the US from actually overthrowing the Baathists. The Soviets envisaged that the new American eagerness for coalitions and international institutions would lead to stronger world government more in line with the communist agenda. Gorbachev discussed this quite frankly with the leadership of the Italian communists:
A. Okketto: The UN shall become an instrument of the world government.
A. Rubbi: Berlinguer spoke about the world government as early as at the 15th Congress of the ICP.
A. Okketto: At that time, many in the audience smiled at this.
M. S. Gorbachev: We also have many people smiling at this. Maybe, indeed, it is worth thinking about arranging for the communists, social democrats and someone else to work out an agreed constructive proposal. It should be not propaganda, but a real policy.
A Okketto: [Willie] Brandt wants to involve representatives of parties, statesmen and other major figures in this work, to discuss the problems during seminars and conferences.
M. S. Gorbachev: Let us arrange all this, and also consult Brandt and others.
At another meeting:
A. Oketto: We highly appreciate the Soviet Union’s role in this conflict. Your actions in the UN have been a real masterpiece of diplomacy. If the Soviet Union condemned the US action in the first place, it would not have so many trump cards to restrain the aggressiveness of the US now…
M. S. Gorbachev: For the first time, we formed a united front in the United Nations. This is a great achievement. Now everything is being done under the UN auspices. This was achieved not without our influence, and the US duly appreciate that. This enables us to restrain them from unilateral action.
Part of Gorbachev’s agenda to protect Saddam Hussein and build a New World Order was to put Israel back at the forefront of world attention even at the height of the crisis over Kuwait. The Soviets drew up a peace plan on October 8th, 1990, to present to Hussein promising to do exactly that. In exchange for a withdrawal from Kuwait, the Soviets promised an international conference on the Middle East, with the aim of destroying Israel. As a gesture of goodwill, the Soviets and their comrade, Yasser Arafat, colluded to make an international drama out of an incident at the Temple Mount that month when the Israelis shot 21 Arab rioters. Delegates from several nations at the UN called upon the members to act as decisively over the issue of Israel and Palestine as Iraq and Kuwait. While anyone can see that numerous regimes have repeatedly waved sticks at Israel in order to distract other countries and even their own populations from their own internal problems, it is still fascinating to see actual concrete plans laid down about this. We know for certain thanks to research like Stroilov’s that whenever the UN is having a field day bashing Israel, its almost certainly a coordinated distraction from something else.
Despite his hatred for Israel, by the way, Gorbachev had no problem asking the Israelis in Septmeber of 1990 for billions of dollars in aid. He effectively used Soviet Jewry, eager to flee to Israel, as a ransom. Neither did he have any problem restoring relations with those reactionary royals in Saudi Arabia after the Americans had coaxed them into giving the Soviets four billion dollars in development assistance.
Peace in the Holy Land and the Middle East is still elusive. After reading this book, all I can say is thank God one of the main barriers to it – the Soviet Union – has left us.