The New Watergate?

The Forward (NY) - January 15, 1999 - Editorial

It has taken a little more than a month for the concerns to be realized regarding the emergence of three Clinton allies in the camp of the Labor Party candidate for prime minister of Israel,

Ehud Barak

. News that James Carville, Robert Shrum and Stanley Greenberg were signing up with Mr. Barak first started raising eyebrows in December.

But a mysterious Capitol Hill break-in and the furor over Jonathan Pollard have brought these concerns to the forefront. Already, those partial to the Labor Party are comparing the robbery at Mr. Greenberg's Washington offices to Watergate. Mr. Greenberg's camp is saying that the burglars took only files relating to international clients.

With regard to Pollard, Mr. Barak had been expected to join Prime Minister Netanyahu in a joint letter calling upon President Clinton to agree to the release of the jailed spy. Now Mr. Barak is backing away from the letter, and the Pollard camp is blaming that on the advice of Mr. Carville. After all, it wouldn't look good for Mr. Clinton to have to rebuff the call of an ally during an election fight.

Defenders of Mr. Barak maintain that the candidate has not changed his position on Pollard, that he still wants to see Pollard freed. They say that Mr. Barak feared being trapped into conceding a political advantage to Mr. Netanyahu. Maybe so, but the broader point remains. With one of Mr. Clinton's most important defenders, Mr. Carville, orchestrating the campaign of a challenger to Mr. Netanyahu, every campaign tactic is worthy of scrutiny.

It was bad enough in 1996 when the American ambassador to Israel at the time, Martin Indyk, dispensed with diplomatic professionalism and all but endorsed the incumbent, Shimon Peres, against the Likud. Now America has much more power to influence the course of events in Israel. The administration is threatening to withhold aid that was promised at the time of the Wye agreement. The Central Intelligence Agency is playing a dangerous new role in the security arrangements between Israel and the Palestinian Arabs.

How difficult would it be for the administration to shade events in such a way as to help the campaign of Mr. Barak? Is it possible that Mr. Carville, who only last month on "Meet the Press" declared war on Republican opponents in Washington, won't seek to use his connections with the president to gain advantage in the election?

Everything may well be on the up-and-up on both sides. But if the events of this week suggest anything, it looks like Mr. Clinton is playing a game that in the end will damage long-term relations between America and the only democracy in the Middle East.