Turkmenistan Snubs Former Mossad Agent as Israel Envoy

In new humiliation to Lieberman, Iran's neighbor refuses credentials to ex-spy expelled from Moscow in '90s.

For the past four months Turkmenistan has been stalling over the appointment of a former spy and close confidant of Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman as Israel's first ambassador to the country, Haaretz has learned.

Israel in October nominated Reuven Dinel, a close associate of Lieberman and a former employee of the Mossad as its envoy to the Central Asian state.

But in a rare diplomatic snub, Turkmenistan has withheld approval the posting.

"They are hoping that we'll take the hint and nominate someone else," one senior diplomat told Haaretz.

Behind the rejection may lie an embarrassing episode that has dogged Dinel for more than a decade. In 1996 the Mossad man was expelled from Moscow after Russian security forces caught him accepting classified satellite photographs from senior army officers.

Foreign ministry sources suspect that Russia, where Dinel remains persona non grata, is pressuring Turkmenistan to block the appointment.

Lieberman first named Dinel as his choice for ambassador in July 2009. The controversial foreign minister is said to attribute special importance to the role, which involves forging new ties with and Muslim-majority country bordering Iran, which Israel sees as the greatest threat to its security.

Dinel has longstanding ties with Lieberman, who as minister of transportation appointed him in 2003 to oversee planning for the Carmel harbor in Haifa. Dinel is currently vice-president of the Israel Ports Company.

The foreign minister, who has suffered a series of setbacks over the past year, including a crisis in relations with Israel's old ally Turkey, is said to see set great store by the former Mossad man's abilities and reportedly sees burgeoning relations with Turkmenistan as one of the crowning achievements of his term of office.

Dinel's appointment to Turkmenistan was officially confirmed by the government on October 25 and a few days later the foreign ministry formally contacted officials in the capital of Turkmenistan, Ashgabat, to request consent for the selection.

According to diplomatic protocol, approval of new ambassadors is usually automatic and accompanied by a token bureaucratic process. But in an unusual break with established form, Turkmenistan continues to delay authorization.

Ashgabat has so far not responded to numerous requests from Jerusalem for an explanation, officials said - a source of personal discomfort to Lieberman who had taken on Turkmenistan as a personal project.

"The choice of candidate was strange from the start, if not surreal," a senior diplomat told Haaretz. "They took someone who was a known spy, someone who was slung out of Moscow, and sent him to Turkmenistan - and all this without consulting a single professional adviser."

"What did they think would happen? There is no way the government in Turkmenistan was ever going to agree to this."

Responding to inquiries over the incident, the foreign ministry said in a statement:

"There has been a delay in the opening of an embassy in Turkmenistan because of a number of difficulties that have emerged, mostly regarding security. This is in no way uncommon when opening a new mission and we hope to overcome these issues during the coming weeks."