Russians accuse Israeli official of spying from Moscow base

JERUSALEM — Russia has expelled an Israeli official with a diplomatic passport who operated out of the Israeli Embassy in Moscow, Israeli officials confirm.

The move is fueling speculation that Russia accused the person in question of spying.

While refusing to divulge why the official was expelled, the Foreign Ministry's spokesman confirmed in a written statement that Russia insisted the official be returned immediately.

However, Moscow was willing to settle the matter by "dialogue," and avoid a situation whereby it unilaterally termed the official persona non grata or simply unwelcome.

The official, whose name is being withheld due to reasons of security, is not a career diplomat. According to the Foreign Ministry, the official was anyway due to return to Israel this summer with his family.

A year ago, Israel and Russia engaged in a diplomatic spat over the credentials of its diplomats.

Israel denied entry to a Russian intelligence official who was slated to be based at the Russian embassy in Tel Aviv, because Israel suspected him of being a KGB official.

In retaliation, the Russians withheld an entry visa for an Israeli slated to be the press attaché at the Israeli Embassy in Moscow.

In Moscow, Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Grigory Karasin told the Reuters news service, "If people are interested in not letting such decisions damage bilateral relations they resolve them in a professional, that is to say a gentlemanly fashion, and they are not made public."