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Kalmanovitz Said to Be the Latest of Several Soviet Spies in Israel

January 12, 1988
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Electrified by the disclosure Sunday that prominent Russian-born Israeli businessman Shabtai Kalmanovitz was arrested last month as an alleged Soviet spy, Israelis eagerly sought more information about the man whose eventful career reportedly brought him into contact with the country’s highest political and military figures.

According to Defense Minister Yitzhak Rabin, Kalmanovitz “was not the first spy for the Soviet Union caught in Israel” and may not be the last. The defense minister congratulated the security services for the arrest, which are still in a state of war with Israel, such as Syria, Libya and other countries.”

Kalmanovitz, 42, who immigrated to Israel in the early 1970s, was taken into custody Dec. 23 for the 15-day period allowed under Israeli law. His detention was extended for another 15 days by order of a Petach Tikva magistrate on Jan. 6.

But Israelis knew nothing of this until Israel television reported Sunday that he had appeared in court that day. The court imposed a total blackout on the police investigation. The exact charges against Kalmanovitz and the circumstances of his arrest remain unknown.

The news media are now delving into Kalmanovitz’s varied and, in some cases, bizarre activities, which include diplomatic representation of Boputhatswana, one of the black “independent” states set up within the boundaries of the Republic of South Africa.


They are sifting through details of his relationship with Samuel Flatto-Sharon, the eccentric multimillionaire fugitive from French justice who served as a one-man Knesset faction from 1977 to 1981. During this time, Kalmanovitz served as his aide, a post that gave him the opportunity to mingle with Israeli politicians of high rank.

Newspapers are also tracking down former friends and associates of Kalmanovitz from an earlier time when he was employed by Israel’s Labor Party.

Former Labor Knesset members remember him well. Although he held a junior position in the party, he apparently had easy access to Premier Golda Meir; her close aide, Yisrael Galili; former Foreign Minister Yigal Alon; and other ranking government figures during the early 1970s.

According to Mathilda Ghez, a retired Knesset member who once headed the Labor Party’s immigrant and absorption section, Kalmanovitz was introduced to the top leaders by the late Benny Maharshak, a party veteran. Kalmanovitz “was a ‘ben-bayit’ (constant and intimate guest) of everyone,” she said.


Kalmanovitz is suspected of being a Soviet plant or “sleeper,” the Israeli news media reported Monday, citing unnamed security sources. In the parlance of the spy world, a “sleeper” is an espionage agent who integrates himself into the political and social world of a target country and leads a model life for years until being “activated” by his handlers in a foreign capital.

Davar’s military correspondent, Tali Selinger, reported Monday that since the large waves of Jewish immigration from the Soviet Union in the 1950s, and particularly the early 1970s, Israel’s security services have been alert for potential spies among the olim.

The assumption is that the Soviet authorities have planted more than one “mole” in Israel, Selinger wrote.

Al Hamishmar’s military correspondent, Avi Benayahu, also suggested that Kalmanovitz may have been planted in Israel by the Soviets, who planned his integration into Israel society “down to the last detail.”

Benayahu said this is the fourth time an incident of Soviet spying in Israel has been disclosed to the public. The first three instances involved Israel Bar, Aharon Cohen and Curt Sita, who were arrested between 1958 and 1961.

Rabin told high school students in Tel Aviv on Monday that Kalmanovitz “was not the first spy for the Soviet Union caught in Israel and not even the second — and, if I am not mistaken, not even the third. I hope he will be the last one, though allow me to say I am not certain of that.”

According to reports Monday, Kalmanovitz was arrested upon his return from a trip to the Soviet Union as a member of a delegation from Sierra Leone, a West African nation. He apparently had broad business interests in Africa, which he conducted from a five-story, glass-fronted office block on the Tel Aviv ocean front.

Reporters converged on the offices, which also house the Embassy of Boputhatswana, the South African puppet state ostensibly represented by Kalmanovitz. The journalists were greeted with tight-lipped silence by officials of the embassy and the companies with which Kalmanovitz is associated.

(Tel Aviv correspondent Hugh Orgel contributed to this report.)

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