Austrian Jewish politician Peter Sichrovsky vehemently denied yesterday that he was ever a Mossad agent, but confirmed having held many meetings with Israeli officials.
"I didn't spy for the Mossad, I didn't receive any money from the Mossad, and I did no harm to Austrian interests," he said in a telephone interview from the United States, where he is currently.
The Austrian weekly Profil published an article earlier this week accusing Sichrovsky, the former secretary general of Joerg Haider's far-right Freedom Party, of having worked for the Mossad and given it information about Iraq and Libya.
Sichrovsky, who said that he plans to cooperate with Austria's investigation against him, said that the report stemmed from a misunderstanding. Profil, he said, had received anonymous letters accusing him of spying for the Mossad, so it asked him whether he had met with Mossad personnel. "I responded laughingly: `I don't know who I met with, and I don't know whether they were Mossad people or not, since they didn't show me a badge. In any case, I wasn't James Bond.' I said this as a joke, but apparently I made a mistake, and I didn't understand how it would be interpreted."
Sichrovsky explained that he had come to Israel at Haider's request to try to improve his party's image in Israel. At the time, Israel was boycotting the Freedom Party due to statements by Haider that implied support for Austria's Nazi past. While here, he met with several MKs, including Roman Bronfman (Yahad) and Ra'anan Cohen (Labor).
According to Sichrovsky, Bronfman and other Israelis whom he met suggested that he meet with a Mossad representative, and asked his and Austria's help in trying to discover the fate of three soldiers kidnapped by Hezbollah in October 2000. Bronfman, in contrast, told Haaretz that the request for a Mossad meeting came from Sichrovsky. But both agree that Bronfman called Ephraim Halevy, then-Mossad chief, who sent someone to meet Sichrovsky.
"Without hesitation, I agreed to help [with the soldiers], and I also reported on this to the Austrian defense minister and the heads of my party, including Joerg Haider," Sichrovsky said. "Following this, I met several times in Israel with members of the defense establishment, and especially with [then] deputy defense minister Ephraim Sneh and his people. I also had some meetings in Vienna, but some of the Israelis were in uniform and some were in civilian dress, and I don't know who they were."
Sichrovsky said he told the Israelis about his meetings in Syria, where he tried to obtain information about the kidnapped soldiers. In addition, he said, due to Haider's close ties with Libyan leader Muammar Gadhafi and then-Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein, the Israelis asked him about the situation in Libya and Iraq. He declined to reveal what he told them, but stated that he suggested that Haider serve as a channel for passing secret messages between Israel and the two Arab countries. Haider, however, refused, fearing that this would damage his ties with Gadhafi and Hussein.
Sichrovsky also said that he once arranged a meeting between senior Israeli and Austrian intelligence officials. His contacts with Israel ended, he said, when he quit politics in 2002.
"Everything I did was open and aboveboard, not secret, and I behaved like a politician doing his job. All I wanted to do was open doors, and help Israel advance the peace process and locate its MIAs," he said.
"Everything that I told [Israel] I did with the knowledge of my party's leaders," he added. "And Austria's defense minister was also in on the matter."