Handler of Pollard says information obtained was essential to Israel's security
Associated Press - March 5, 2006
The Israeli handler of Jonathan Pollard, the American convicted of spying for Israel two decades ago, defended the risky operation that tarnished Israel-U.S. relations in an interview published Friday, saying Pollard's information was too good to resist and would have made a great difference in the event of war with Arab countries.
"I asked myself over and over again what more information could be gained, what and who could be saved by it. The desire to get more material overcame me," Rafi Eitan told the Yediot Ahronot daily, in his first published remarks regarding the espionage affair, which severely strained relations between Israel and its strongest ally.
Pollard was a civilian intelligence analyst for the U.S. Navy when he copied massive amounts of classified documents and handed them to Israeli agents. He was caught in November 1985 and arrested after unsuccessfully seeking refuge at the Israeli Embassy in Washington. He was sentenced to life in prison, and has spent the past 20 years in a series of U.S. correctional facilities.
Pollard, 51, remains incarcerated at a federal prison in Butner, North Carolina.
Israel says it has banned espionage in the United States after the Pollard scandal.
Eitan, 79, resigned from Israel's Mossad spy agency shortly after the Pollard affair. He is now seeking election to Israel's parliament leading a small party fighting for the interests of retirees.
In the comprehensive interview, Eitan said he alone bore responsibility for the affair and its fallout. But he said he believes he made the right decision, despite the personal cost to Pollard.
"I decided that it was better to take the risk and get the information, which I never doubted for a moment was essential to the security of Israel. I understood the risk, although I did not foresee that the affair would blow up to such proportions," he said.
"In intelligence, like in war, you go to battle, and when you go to battle you make mistakes, too," he added. "I am convinced I did the right thing for the security of Israel, but that doesn't change the fact that it is very hard for me with the understanding that an American Jew lost his freedom, his future and most of his life."
Eitan didn't specify what sort of information was obtained, but said the material was extremely valuable. "I would definitely say if a war had broken out, the information Pollard provided would have strengthened the Israeli army and greatly influenced the results on the battlefield," he said.
Eitan said he met Pollard twice in Israel and the American made an "exceptional impression in his intellectual ability, his ability to remember details, his understanding of the situation in the Middle East and his commitment to help Israel. There is no doubt he put himself at great risk and he understood that completely, even without our explanations."
But he said Pollard hasn't helped his cause from prison with his harsh verbal attacks of Israeli and American officials.
Eitan also emphatically denied American claims that Pollard's information exposed American agents in China, the Soviet Union and elsewhere.
"Nothing of what Pollard handed us ever leaked outside the Israeli intelligence community. Nothing," he said.
Israel's Supreme Court in January rejected a petition by Pollard to be declared a Prisoner of Zion - a status that would have required the Israeli government to do all it can to get him released.