Russia expels Israeli military attache

Published yesterday 18/05/2011 22:12

JERUSALEM (AFP) — Russia has expelled Israel’s military attache at its Moscow embassy on spying allegations, Israeli defense officials said on Wednesday, dismissing the charges as unfounded.

The officials said air force Colonel Vadim Leiderman returned to Israel several days ago after being questioned by Russian authorities over espionage allegations and then told to leave the country immediately.

Israel’s state-run Channel One television said the Russians released him without charges owing to his diplomatic immunity.

“He was suspected by the Russians of running several local residents,” the TV said.

“He was taken in for questioning in Moscow about 10 days ago, the police asked him some questions. Because of his diplomatic immunity they were not able to do more but he was asked to immediately leave the country and he did so,” it added.

The Israeli military spokesman’s office and the foreign ministry spokesman referred AFP’s enquiries to the defence ministry, which had no immediate comment on Wednesday evening.

Ynet, the website of top-selling Israeli daily Yediot Aharanot, said Liederman “maintains that the allegations are baseless and false and that the entire incident is rooted in a misunderstanding.”

“The past few days have seen hectic efforts by Israel to appease Moscow and stop the already grave diplomatic incident from escalating further, but the Russians seem adamant to exhaust all the legal measures at their disposal against the officer.

“Israel has substantial political and security interests in Russia and is now concentrating on damage control,” Ynet said.

On a visit to Moscow in March, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu sought to persuade Russia to scale down its nuclear cooperation with Iran and its arms sales to Syria, both seen in Israel as strategic threats.

Russia is a key supplier of arms to the Arab world and has agreed to send a large shipment of anti-ship Yakhont cruise missiles to Syria — a country still technically at war with Israel.

Israeli officials fear the shipment will ultimately land in the hands of the Syrian-supported Hezbollah militia in Lebanon.

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