A Time To Act

May 21, 1998 - Uri Dan and Dennis Eisenberg - The Jerusalem Post - Opinion

It was a golden moment for Jonathan Pollard when he was visited in his prison cell a week ago by Cabinet secretary Dan Naveh. For over an hour they discussed the implications of Jerusalem finally deciding that he was, after all, a bona fida Israeli intelligent agent. Pollard was reported to be "delighted" by the news. First, Pollard has the satisfaction of knowing that the "rogue elephant" cover up story concocted over a decade ago by Israeli government leaders was a misbegotten, brazen lie.

The senior ministers of the day, Moshe Arens, Yitzhak Rabin, Shimon Peres and Yitzhak Shamir, had tossed their star Lakam intelligence operator to the dogs to cover their own hides. Their conduct was nothing less than shameful. However, hope for an early release for Pollard must be laced with a dose of realism. Everything hinges on the goodwill on the man who sits in the White House, and whether he has the desire or determination to grant Pollard amnesty.

Clinton's intelligence service is determined never to release Pollard. They fear that if he is released, he will be free to divulge their clumsy machinations to cover up their blunders in not detecting the activities of internal traitors like Aldridge Ames, and possibly others. To this day Pollard is still their choice scapegoat. This is the reason Pollard became the only individual in the United States found guilty of spying for a friendly power who has ever served a sentence of more than four years.

The 13 years he has already spent in prison is the vindictive albatross he carries around his neck to this day. Comparisons are sometimes invidious, and justice varies from country to country. Nevertheless, we refer to the recent decision to release the UK's most notorious spy, Michael Bettaney, after he served 14 years of his 23-year prison sentence. Unlike Pollard, who gave information to a friendly power, Bettaney offered the Soviet Union, his country's biggest enemy, some of Britain's most crucial secrets. During his trial, it was revealed that the Englishman's sole purpose in spying was financial greed. Due to his revelations, Britain's MI5 secret service had to be completely reorganized.

Just as in the US, British security chiefs were up in arms about Bettaney's release. But Tony Blair's government, moved by compassion, decided that justice had been served and that the prisoner could go free. Now let us look at both men a little closer. Pollard, then employed by US Naval Intelligence, realized that satellite maps of poison gas and other unconventional weapon sites being built by Israel's Arab enemies - including Syria and Iraq - were clearly aimed at the destruction of the Jewish state. By prior agreement between the two governments the maps were supposed to have been sent to Jerusalem. Then-secretary of state Caspar Weinberger had taken it upon himself to prevent this information from reaching Jerusalem.

Pollard became convinced that, as a result, the Jews of Israel were facing a possible second Holocaust. He offered to send the plans to Jerusalem. It was an offer which was gratefully accepted. But Rafi Eitan, who was in charge of the operation, insisted that Pollard be paid for his work as he was now their fully pledged agent. In contrast, Bettaney's sole interest was to fill his pockets with gold. It was said at his trial that "he would not have hesitated to disclose names to the Russians which would almost certainly have led to the death of more than one of them."

The dispatch of Middle Eastern war plant maps to Israeli in no way threatened US security. No US agents were ever in jeopardy as a result. No known damage was caused to American interests other than Weinberger's private agenda. Pollard has repeatedly expressed remorse for betraying the trust placed in him as a US intelligence officer. Michael Bettaney has never uttered a single word of regret for spying for the Kremlin. "My life is my own business," was all he had to say after his release.

Pollard, who has spent the last 13 years in underground cells, suffered ill health and not seen the sun or a flower or a tree throughout that period, will envy Bettaney. The British spy spent his time in prison isolation in a five room $750,000 apartment which overlooked a patio with barbecue area, complete with a billiard table, mini gym, TV and video recorder, private kitchen, microwave and dishwasher. Above all else, Jonathan Pollard is still in prison whereas Bettaney is free.

Will the decision taken by Israel to recognize Pollard as "their man" help in winning his liberty?. Will Netanyahu come right out and ask Clinton next time they meet to free him? And will American Jews exert pressure on the White house to free their co-religionist so unjustly treated by the US judiciary? Much will depend on whether they come face to face with the myth they have so long cherished and allowed to delude them: that Clinton is a friend of Israel. He is nothing of the kind. His open support of Yasser Arafat, his wife Hillary calling for the establishment of a Palestinian state - which is nothing less than an act of suicide by the Jewish state - his refusal to even accept a letter by American rabbis calling for Pollard's release, are ill omens.

The Jews of America failed to try to save the lives of their European brethren by pressuring president Roosevelt during the closing stages of the Holocaust to bomb the railway line to Auschwitz. Fearful then and fearful now of having their loyalty as Americans questioned, they have turned a blind eye to Pollard's fate during the past decade. They have never demonstrated on his behalf. Will they now put aside their timidity and make their communal voice heard? Or are they still too deeply embedded in their longstanding fear of saying, doing, even thinking of doing something which might upset the Czar?