Russia Expels Israel's Military Attaché Over Espionage Claims

Colonel Vadim Leiderman arrested, questioned late last week; Israeli security reportedly questioned him upon his arrival for allegedly contacting a foreign agent, suspicions from which he was cleared.

Assaf Shilo/Israel Sun

Israel's military attaché in Moscow was arrested and expelled earlier this week, it was revealed on Wednesday, with sources saying that the top Israel Defense Forces officer was questioned over espionage suspicions.

Colonel Vadim Leiderman was arrested during a May 12 meeting in a restaurant, in what appeared to be a violation of his diplomatic immunity. He was then questioned for a few hours, released, and subsequently deported.

Leiderman, who was born in the Soviet Union, has a doctorate in engineering from the Technion – Israel Institute of Technology, Haifa. He was a member of the Israel Air Force (IAF) technical corps, and spent some years working for the IAF in America.

Haaretz also learned that Leiderman was questioned by the Shin Bet over suspicions he had contacted a foreign agent, suspicions of which he was subsequently cleared.

The IDF released a statement in response to Lederman's deportation, saying that the IDF officer's mission "was to end in two months," adding that Israeli security "officials had made a thorough examination which found that espionage claims are unfounded."

The unusual incident occurred during an official visit to Russia by the Knesset's Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, led by committee chairman and Kadima MK Shaul Mofaz.

The delegation met with senior Russian officials in the Russian parliament, as well as with Russian government officials, including the head of the Kremlin's national security council.

Israeli officials were hard-pressed to explain the motivation for the arrest, estimating that it was the result of a power struggle between several Russian security services. Leiderman, an IAF man and a fluent Russian speaker, left promptly following his release and underwent a series of questionings concerning the affair.

The incident wasn't the first time in which senior Israeli officials, specifically from the defense and intelligence establishment, were arrested under mysterious circumstances in Russia, in breach of their diplomatic immunity.

In the early 1990s, Mossad representative Reuven Dinel was arrested in a Moscow subway station after he had purchased satellite images from a firm that was part of the Russian military intelligence.

During his arrest, Russian security officials disregarded Dinel's immunity, in an interrogation that included a severe beating. He was then transferred to a local police station, released, and declared "persona non-grata," forcing him to leave the country.

It should be pointed out that Leiderman, unlike Dinel, was not beaten during his arrest and questioning.