Turkmenistan Rejects Israeli Ambassador, Says He Is 'Mossad Spy'

Turkmen Foreign Ministry says Israel's designated ambassador Haim Koren's past employment as instructor at the National Security College is proof of his involvement in espionage.

ברק רביד - צרובה
Barak Ravid
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ברק רביד - צרובה
Barak Ravid

Turkmenistan has rejected Israel's designated ambassador for the second time, claiming that the proposed envoy is a Mossad operative.

The Turkmen Foreign Ministry recently informed Israel that it will not accept the credentials of Haim Koren, who was appointed in August 2010, because his resume indicates that he spent three years as an instructor at the National Security College in Glilot. A Foreign Ministry source in Jerusalem said the Turkmen government saw that as proof that he was a Mossad spy, rather than a diplomat.

Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman arriving for a meeting of the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee at the Knesset yesterday.Credit: Michal Fattal

The Foreign Ministry tried repeatedly to explain that the college was an educational institution and not an intelligence body, but could not convince the Turkmen officials.

"We want you to send us an ambassador who will deal with bilateral relations, not a spy to collect intelligence on Iran," a senior Turkmen official reportedly told Israeli officials.

This follows Turkmenistan's refusal in late 2009 to accept Israel's first candidate, Reuven Daniel, who had served in the Mossad in the past. After Turkmenistan refused to accept him, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman made Daniel ambassador to Ukraine as a consolation prize.

Expelled from Russia

The Foreign Ministry's assessment at the time was that Turkmenistan refused Daniel because in 1996, when he headed the first Mossad office in Moscow, he was expelled from Russia after he was caught accepting classified satellite photos from Russian officers.

Koren's rejection deeply embarrassed Foreign Ministry officials, since this is the first time a foreign country has ever rejected Israel's proposed ambassador twice. They also regarded it as strange, since Koren was a professional appointment, not a political one.

Soon after Lieberman assumed his ministerial post, he decided to open an embassy in Ashgabat, the capital of the Muslim former Soviet republic. According to ministry officials, this was a "personal project" of the minister's, as he considered it important to have diplomatic representation in a city only 20 kilometers from the Iranian border. Lieberman saw this not only as a diplomatic achievement, but as a way to convey a warning to Tehran.

For 10 months after Koren was named, the Turkmen government refused to accept his credentials, but did not give any reason for their foot-dragging. Only a few weeks ago did they finally explain the rejection.

According to Foreign Ministry sources, Lieberman has lost patience with Turkmenistan's conduct and considered canceling the opening of the embassy altogether. But the head of the ministry's Euro-Asian Department, Pinhas Avivi, who is handling the contacts with Turkmenistan officials, convinced him not to abandon the plan.

Last week, therefore, a new internal tender was published for the ambassadorial post.

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