Nelson Mandela received weapons training from Israel's secret service, the Mossad, in the early 1960s, documents in Israeli archives show.
Mandela was identified in the documents as David Mobsari, an alias, the Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported Friday. He worked with staffers who were almost certainly Mossad agents at the Israeli Embassy in Ethiopia.
At the time, Mandela, already a leader in the African National Congress, was being hunted by the apartheid regime in South Africa, which used the code name "the Black Pimpernel." Not long after his encounter with Israel, Mandela was arrested and sentenced to life in prison.
In the early 1960s, Israel was trying to cultivate newly independent states in Africa and supported groups trying to oust colonial or whites-only regimes, Haaretz said. After the 1967 Six-Day War and the occupation of the West Bank, many African leaders supported the Palestinians and Israel developed close ties with South Africa's apartheid government.
Israeli documents describe Mandela as expressing sympathy with Israel and interested in the tactics used against the British in the struggle for nationhood.
"He greeted our men with 'Shalom,' was familiar with the problems of Jewry and of Israel and gave the impression of being an intellectual," a staffer in the Ethiopian embassy and probably a Mossad agent, said in a letter to the Africa desk of the Israeli foreign office, the newspaper reported. "The staff tried to make him into a Zionist."