Mossad-KGB Double Agent Zeev Avni Dies at 86

Zeev Avni, who was involved in one of Israel's most secret espionage affairs, died last week at age 86.

Avni, a Mossad agent, was arrested in April 1956 on suspicion of being a KGB agent. It emerged that while he was cultivating former Nazis employed as military advisers by Egypt's army for the Mossad, he was also serving as a long-term Soviet mole.

When Avni's double life was eventually exposed, he was tried in secret and sentenced to 14 years' imprisonment.

Avni was born Wolf Goldstein in 1921, in Riga, Latvia, to social activist parents who migrated to Germany and later to Switzerland. In 1942, after serving in the Swiss army, he was recruited to Soviet intelligence by a Czech refugee named Karl Vibrel. In 1948, Avni immigrated to Israel and settled on Kibbutz Hazorea.

Two years later Avni joined the Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem, and in 1952 he was sent on a diplomatic mission to the Israeli embassy in Brussels. He contacted Vibrel in Moscow and resumed working for Soviet intelligence.

Goldstein changed his name to the Hebrew Zeev Avni, and began sending his Soviet operators important material about the Foreign Ministry, weapons sales to Israel and secret codes.

While in Brussels, Avni served as a courier and recruiter for the Paris branch of the Mossad. His relations with both the Mossad and his Soviet operators continued after he was assigned to Israel's diplomatic mission in Belgrade, Yugoslavia.

In April 1956 he returned to Israel and asked Mossad chief Issar Harel for work. Harel became suspicious, and Avni was arrested and interrogated by the Shin Bet.

After his confession, his interrogators hoped to turn him into a double agent, but he refused and started serving his 14-year sentence.

The affair was a closely guarded secret, and leaked to the media only at the beginning of the 1990s.

Avni's belief in communism cracked only when he learned that Soviet leader Nikita Khruschev had denounced Stalin's crimes. At that point he began cooperating with the Mossad. He was released in 1965.

Avni is the only documented Soviet spy who penetrated the Israeli secret intelligence service. After his release, he worked as a clinical psychologist. The military censor permitted him to publish some of his memoirs in 1993.