A Shameful Silence

July 27, 1997 - Uri Dan & Dennis Eisenberg - The Jerusalem Post

Are Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and Foreign Minister Shimon Peres dragging their feet in seeking Jonathan Pollard's release?

The question is particularly pertinent as they press Syria, via Washington, to return the remains of Israeli super spy Eli Cohen, who is buried in a Damascus prison grave. It seems a small thing to ask, given their readiness to hand over the entire Golan Heights as a gift to President Assad, and their daily concessions to his escalating demands. Surely the Syrian dictator owes Israel a tiny favor to supplement "promises" not worth the paper on which they are written.

The US is also pressing Rabin to surrender one "red line" after another in dealing with Assad. President Clinton wants the political victory of Middle East peace to help him win next year's presidential election.

Surely Rabin and Peres could ask Clinton to pardon Pollard, so unjustly sentenced thanks to misinformation spread by Aldridge Ames. This KGB mole at CIA headquarters pointed the finger at Pollard to cover his own betrayal of some 10 US agents in the former Soviet Union. Pollard was given a life term after then-secretary of defense Caspar Weinberger damned him in a venomous personal pretrial letter to the judge.

Today it is known that Weinberger's accusations, charging Pollard with causing great damage to US security, were untrue.

As Pollard faces an autumn parole hearing, there is a deafening silence from the Israeli government at the gross injustice meted out to him. Intelligence experts familiar with the case are convinced that Peres, Rabin and Yitzhak Shamir - leaders in the coalition government at the time of Pollard's arrest -

prefer him to keep quiet.

They not only abandoned him to his fate, but betrayed him by giving the US authorities the proof that he was supplying Israel with information.

Pollard sent Jerusalem data revealing that Moscow was helping Syria to secure the most modern weapons systems available. Contrary to an agreement between the US and Israel,

Weinberger withheld this data.

Pollard spied, it is true. He felt he could not sit idly by and see Israel being sold short. A dedicated Zionist, he felt it his duty to warn his fellow Jews of the imminent danger of war. In letters to Amnon Dror, who for many years has led a campaign to free him, Pollard still maintains that he wants to serve Israel if he can.

Peres and Rabin are determined to steamroller a peace deal with Syria, despite overwhelming public hostility to a surrender of the Golan.

And they prefer not to hear a liberated Pollard speak out.

Pollard unwittingly undermines Rabin's claim that the Golan Heights can be defended by electronic spy devices perched on Mount Hermon and other points on the border, rather than by the army. This claim defies a firm belief in senior Israeli intelligence circles that it's dangerous to trust electronic surveillance devices.

We have learnt that these devices, currently used in Sinai, are worthless unless under sole Israeli control. It's not even as if President Assad will accept their presence on the Golan. He has already thrown a spanner into the works by reneging on a commitment, made recently to the Americans, that he will allow further talks between Syrian and Israeli military officers. Why? Because Damascus doesn't want spy stations on Syrian soil (by which it means the Golan).

The most advanced satellite pictures are no substitute for the current practice of Israeli soldiers peering through binoculars at Damascus.

According to US intelligence experts, the Iraqis, for example, know how to deceive Pentagon intelligence teams. They use techniques taught to them by the US during the Iran-Iraq War to fool satellite imagery.

The Americans say that Iraq has learnt how to mask its military operations, that it can shield communications from eavesdropping, broadcast phony messages, and that it can display decoy weapons and installations and paint airfields to make them appear damaged.

The lesson is crystal clear. Israel cannot trust even the most expensive electronic aerial spy devices. Even worse, Jerusalem cannot rely on the US to pass on information that the satellites are receiving.

Weinberger refused to let Israel see pictures showing how Syria was preparing a surprise attack. It was Pollard who told Jerusalem. And, during the Gulf war, then-president Bush did not permit Israel to see vital pictures of Scud launching sites.

It is also clear that what the Iraqis know about fooling spy satellites in the air, on the ground, or anywhere else can easily be learnt, if it has not already been mastered, by Syrian technicians. Israel is foolish to entrust the safety of its citizens to such toys when Israel army observers are on the job on Mount Hermon and other peaks on the Golan Heights.

According to a special report, issued by the Center for Security in Washington: "Israel's security depends not on a demilitarization arrangement that Syria might or might not respect indefinitely, but on the IDF's ability to prevail over Syrian forces if Syria were to renew military hostilities - and on the costs of such a victory".

Even more blunt was former OC NorthernCommand Maj. -Gen. (res) Yossi Peled, who warned two years ago that Israeli withdrawal from the Golan Heights would constitute "national suicide". In the light of the fallibility of electronic spies it is a warning more valid today than ever before.

We should not forget Jonathan Pollard. Spying for a friendly power in the US has never earned more than a five-year prison term. Surely Rabin, Peres and Shamir could ask Clinton to free the man. Their silence is, to put it mildly, shameful.

Uri Dan and Dennis Eisenberg are authors of  The Mossad: Secrets of the Israeli Secret Service and other books on the Middle East.