The Cold War’s Arab Spring: How the Soviets Created Today’s Middle East
Stolen Kremlin records show how the Soviets, including Gorbachev, created many of today’s Middle East conflicts
In the mid-1970s, Pacepa recalls, the KGB ordered its Eastern European sister agencies to scour the Middle East for trusted agents, train them in disinformation and terrorism, and export a “rabid, demented hatred for American Zionism.” They showered the region with an Arabic translation of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion and KGB-fabricated documents alleging that Israel and the United States were dedicated to converting the Islamic world into a Jewish colony.
Following the defeat of the Egyptians in the Six Day War, the Soviets came to a second realization: A conventional military confrontation with Israel, and by extension the West, carried too great a risk of escalating into nuclear war. A change of tactics was required. Gen. Alexander Sakharovsky, then head of the KGB’s intelligence arm, explained this to his East European colleagues: “[T]errorism should become our main weapon.” Sakharovsky boasted that airplane hijackings were his own invention; he decorated his office with a world map, covered in flags, each marking a successful hijacking. Though the PLO managed to unite various terrorist organizations, “the supreme headquarters of the whole network was, of course, the Kremlin,” Stroilov writes, and “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.”
Pacepa lists examples of KGB-sponsored acts of terrorism:
November 1969, armed attack on the El Al office in Athens, leaving 1 dead and 14 wounded; May 30, 1972, Ben Gurion Airport attack, leaving 22 dead and 76 wounded; December 1974, Tel Aviv movie theater bomb, leaving 2 dead and 66 wounded; March 1975, attack on a Tel Aviv hotel, leaving 25 dead and 6 wounded; May 1975, Jerusalem bomb, leaving 1 dead and 3 wounded; July 4, 1975, bomb in Zion Square, Jerusalem, leaving 15 dead and 62 wounded; April 1978, Brussels airport attack, leaving 12 wounded; May 1978, attack on an El Al plane in Paris, leaving 12 wounded.
Stroilov’s documents indicate that the Soviets and Syrians also took credit for blowing up the U.S. Marine barracks in Lebanon in 1983.
Two of Bukovsky’s documents appear in English for the first time in Behind the Desert Storm. The first is Yuri Andropov’s memo to Leonid Brezhnev in 1974 detailing a KGB meeting with Palestinian terrorist Wadie Haddad. It recommends that the Soviet government provide material support to Haddad’s Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine. The second is the transcript of a 1984 Politburo meeting approving the shipment of 15 million rubles’ worth of weapons and ammunition to the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine in exchange for a collection of ancient art. The invention of modern terrorism: All credit is due to the Kremlin.
Then there was the 1979 Iranian revolution. Again, Stroilov suggests, the conventional narrative is wrong. This was not a spontaneous Islamist uprising but a well-organized communist revolution gone awry. It had been planned since the end of World War II, when Soviet forces withdrew from Iran under Western pressure but left behind a massive spy network. The standard ratio of KGB residencies was one per country; in Iran, the Soviets had nearly 40. They worked for the next 33 years to foment the revolution, training illegals from the Soviet republics to pass as members of Iran’s ethnic groups. Unfortunately for them, they did not know that Vladimir Kuzichkin, their key spymaster in Tehran, had been recruited by MI6. The British shared the information about the upcoming revolution with SAVAK—but too late. By then the revolution was in full force. The mullahs captured SAVAK’s records, and with this knowledge they rounded up every last Soviet agent.
An odd anecdote appears in Stroilov’s account of the final days of the Iran-Iraq war. Khomenei had learned from the Western press that Gorbachev was a man with whom one could do business—a great reformer. Obviously confused, he dispatched an ayatollah to deliver a handwritten letter to Gorbachev. “The text, alas, is still unknown to historians,” writes Stroilov, “but the whole Politburo is on record laughing their heads off when reading it.” The contents may be deduced, he says, from the transcripts of the subsequent Politburo. Khomenei had proposed that Gorbachev should abandon Marxism and convert to Islam.
This, Stroilov remarks, “was hardly much sillier than the attitude of most Western opinion-makers, who hoped that Gorbachev would miraculously transform from a communist to a democrat.”
The envoy was politely disabused of the idea but reassured that the Kremlin and the ayatollahs would still find common ground in their shared goal of destroying the Great Satan:
“Without diplomatic niceties,” as Gorbachev said, he told the Ayatollah how Americans and Pakistanis were undermining the well-known Soviet efforts to achieve peace in Afghanistan, and hinted that, détente and disarmament notwithstanding, he disbelieved all the US assurances of friendship. This he contrasted with the sincerity of the Soviet-Iranian relations. Soon, Comrades and Ayatollahs would note they were in complete agreement, not only about the situation in the Middle East, but also about South Africa, Latin America, East-West disarmament, and especially about “turning the Indian Ocean into a peace zone,” which meant ousting the Americans. Soviet-Iranian joint committees working on these issues mushroomed in 1989, while Foreign Ministers Shevardnadze and Velayati had four meetings in six months.
Nuclear energy was listed as one of the key areas of cooperation.
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