Questions Persist Regarding Arrest of Israel's Military Attaché in Russia

Colonel Vadim Leiderman may have been trying to gather information on arms sales to Syria, and reportedly 'lobbied' on behalf of Israeli company Elbit, which is keen on selling unmanned aerial vehicles to Russia.

Contradictory reports emerged over the weekend in Russia as to the reasons for the expulsion of Israeli military attache, Air Force Colonel Vadim Leiderman, a week and a half ago.

Russia's FSB, the equivalent of Israel's Shin Bet security service but with far greater influence and power, told the local media that Leiderman was expelled because of his attempts to acquire secret information on military sales to Arab states.

Vadim Leiderman
Assaf Shilo / Israel Sun

The newspaper Izvestiya reported that he may have been particularly interested in Russian arms sales to Syria and noted that Israel has been concerned for some time now about Russia's 2007 agreement to sell Syria Yakhont anti-ship cruise missiles, which can target ships up to 300 kilometers away and defend 600 kilometers of coastline.

According to a statement provided by the FSB to the Russian New Agency Interfax, Leiderman had tried to obtain information from several civil servants about Russia's military-technological cooperation with some Arab states and the former Soviet republics. "The documents in the possession of the Russian security services prove without doubt the hostile activities of Vadim Leiderman against the Russian Federation," the statement read.

The statement did not mention the sort of military equipment that the Israeli military attache was interested in, though Israel has tried to block two deals for transferring advanced air defense systems from Russia to Iran and Syria. Both Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak have been involved in these efforts.

In its statement, the FSB said that it had "impregnable evidence" of the "illegal activities in our country, whose substance was to recruit a number of Russian civilians as possible information providers."

The Russian security services have leaked video to Russian television showing Leiderman being arrested on May 12 as he was having dinner at a restaurant with one of the Russians he is accused of trying to secure information from. Earlier, though, a Russian security source told the media that he was being expelled for "industrial espionage activities."

The newspaper Vedomosti reported over the weekend that Leiderman was "lobbying" on behalf of the Israeli company Elbit, which is keen on selling unmanned aerial vehicles to Russia. This would seem to contradict the interests of Russia's state-run military industry, which signed a $400 million contract for Israeli Searcher UAVs that are built under license by a factory in the Russian Urals.

A source told the Izvestiya newspaper that Leiderman was actively lobbying on behalf of an Israeli company, adding that he had vigorously promoted Elbit's unmanned aircraft, which Russia had refused to purchase because they had been sold to the former Soviet republic of Georgia, with which Russia has been in military confrontation.

If there is validity to these accounts, they would seem to indicate a new trend in the defense establishment, according to which military attaches must fulfill a dual role today because of cuts in funding and manpower, representing both the interests of military contractors and the Defense Ministry.

The FSB complained that it was Israeli media that leaked reports concerning Leiderman and that the Russian authorities had done everything possible to prevent the case from affecting relations with Israel. Russia did not accord Leiderman diplomatic immunity, though, as he was arrested and interrogated for several hours before being asked to leave the country. Upon his arrival in Israel, he underwent three days of questioning by the security services here to ensure that there had been no effort to recruit him by the Russian intelligence services.