Former Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon said Monday he was unaware of the statement published by the Foreign Ministry in 2012 against Ukrainian opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko, which was released only in Russian.
Ayalon called the statement abnormal, both for being published only in Russian and for targeting Tymoshenko. His reply came after a plea deal reached between U.S. President Donald Trump's former campaign manager Paul Manafort and Robert Mueller revealed that a senior Israeli official helped Manafort meddle in Ukrainian politics.
Ayalon was deputy foreign minister at the time under Avigdor Lieberman, the leader of Yisrael Beiteinu who is currently serving as defense minister.
"I hope that we will soon know who the Israeli official is. This is really like a spy thriller by John Le Carre. It's true that according to American court precedent the names of those who are not charged are not published, but this case has nothing to do with American court rulings because this is not an American citizen," Ayalon said. "This [matter] is of interest to the Israeli public and to [Israel's] security. The Israeli government has the means to obtain the information and know who is involved."
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Speaking of the statement released by the Foreign Ministry at the time, Ayalon said that "When I look at how that message was released, let's say it's a very abnormal thing."
Ayalon also noted that "it is strange" the statement was not also released in Ukrainian and in English, only in Russian. "This is not common practice," he said.
"Tarnishing Tomyshenko wasn't in Manafort's interest, Manafort is a mercenary. It was Putin's interest," Ayalon said, claiming Putin wanted to maintain former Ukranian president Viktor Yanukovych, who served Russia's interests, in power and was afraid Tymoshenko could upset him in the elections.
Regarding Lieberman's denial he had ever met Manafort or had any dealings with him, Ayalon said: "I really hope it wasn't him and that they release the name. The denial refers to knowing Manafort. You don't even need to mention Manafort, Putin could have worked through a lot of middle ranks. The statement is odd in that respect. If someone truly wants to convince the public it wasn't him, come and show the bureau's work that preceded that statement," referring to the ministry's admonishment of Tymoshenko.
Ayalon stressed the abnormality of naming Tymoshenko in the statement. "We heavily mulled statements against anti-Semites in Austrian and Hungarian parties and so forth. They never mentioned a name. It was always in such a way that was clear but never aimed at a specific person. And that statement targets Tymoshenko."
Lieberman's office said Sunday that "the wording of the condemnation published by the Foreign Ministry at the time was correct and timely, against an anti-Semitic party that spread its diabolic doctrine on dozens of occasions. Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman does not know Manafort, he has never met him and has never spoken with him. The rest if science fiction for conspiracy fans."
Lieberman confirmed a report saying he asked Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked to work to reveal the identity of the Israeli official mentioned in Manafort's plea deal. Earlier on Sunday, Labor Party Chairman Avi Gabbay asked Netanyahu to launch an immediate investigation into whether a foreign agent is operating within the Israeli government.
Despite Lieberman's demand, special counsel Robert Mueller's office told Haaretz Sunday that it could not expose further information in the affair regarding individuals who are not defined as suspects in the case.
The plea deal between Manafort and Mueller, who is investigating Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election was published Friday. The document alleges that a senior Israeli government official conspired with Manafort in 2012 to defame then-Ukrainian opposition leader Tymoshenko by accusing her of maintaining ties with anti-Semitic groups.
Manafort said that, as a result, American Jews would pressure the Obama administration not to support Tymoshenko, whose opponent was a client of Manafort’s. Manafort served for years as a political advisor and lobbyist for pro-Russian politicians in Eastern Europe, especially Ukraine.