South African freedom fighter Nelson Mandela secretly traveled to Ethiopia and received paramilitary training from Israeli spies shortly before he was arrested in 1962, according to a memo that was reportedly just unearthed from Israel's State Archives.

The letter was found by David Fachler, an Israeli attorney and "communal spiritual leader" with South African ties who was working in the archives to research a master's thesis. It was reportedly written as a "CYA" from Mossad to several members of Israel's Foreign Ministry, two months after Mandela was arrested and imprisoned by the South African government. Fachler shared it yesterday with the left-leaning Israeli newspaper Ha'aretz:

"As you may recall, three months ago we discussed the case of a trainee who arrived at the [Israeli] embassy in Ethiopia by the name of David Mobsari who came from Rhodesia," the letter said. "The aforementioned received training from the Ethiopians [Israeli embassy staff, almost certainly Mossad agents] in judo, sabotage and weaponry." The phrase "the Ethiopians" was apparently a code name for Mossad operatives working in Ethiopia.

The letter also noted that the subject in question "showed an interest in the methods of the Haganah and other Israeli underground movements. "It added that "he greeted our men with 'Shalom', was familiar with the problems of Jewry and of Israel, and gave the impression of being an intellectual. The staff tried to make him into a Zionist," the Mossad operative wrote.

"In conversations with him, he expressed socialist worldviews and at times created the impression that he leaned toward communism," the letter continued, noting that the man who called himself David Mobsari was the same man who had recently been arrested in South Africa...

Additional handwritten notes on the document appear to confirm Mossad officers' suspicion that their trainee was Mandela, the so-called "Black Pimpernel."

In a Ha'aretz op-ed accompanying the letter's release, Fachler blasted the current Israeli government for snubbing Mandela's funeral and showing "that it serially misunderstands the new South Africa." He argued that the letter and '60s-era anti-apartheid activity by the Israeli government showed the Jewish state had more in common with Mandela's politics than it has always acknowledged.

If authenticated, the letter's substance could complicate Mandela's legacy, however. As a revolutionary and a politician, he courted many leaders and movements—such as the Palestinian Liberation Organization and groups it had trained—whose aims were opposed to Israel's. Pictures of Mandela with PLO head Yassir Arafat, like the one above, are ubiquitious.

The letter is already being decried by some of his supporters as a fake to smear the dead man's legacy. As one South African political organizer tweeted of the story: "Twas only a matter of time before some try to 'discredit' Tata."

[Photo credit: AP]