Makor Rishon Exposé: Who's Afraid of Pollard?

Pazeet Ravina - Makor Rishon - April 4, 2008

[Translated to English by J4JP and released April 8, 2008]

In a front page headline this week in huge letters, as if a new world war had been declared, Yediot Achronot declared: "THE STATE COMPTROLLER WILL TORPEDO POLLARD'S RELEASE". Anyone who bothered to read the body of the text, and not just the blaring headline, cannot avoid the impression that behind the headline "The Comptroller will Torpedo" lurks someone who is attempting to torpedo the Comptroller. Who is so afraid of the Comptroller's investigation of the Pollard issue?

Upon Whose Head is the Hat burning?

"I only wish that I might be proven wrong, but it appears that there is someone whose hat* is burning upon his head."

This is how the State Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss responded to the bizarre headline in Yediot last week which declared in a huge letters, the sensational news: "The State Comptroller Will Torpedo Pollard's Release." After the blaring headline, the news item pales in comparison and doesn't provide a single new fact, except for expressing the opinion of one source, without a name, hiding behind the euphemism, "high level sources in the defense establishment."

The actual investigation by the Comptroller, it should be noted, is not exactly news. It has been on-going for the last 3 months. Nevertheless, Yediot chose to allot the first 3 pages of the paper (including the front page) to this "news" item, thus creating the impression that there is indeed someone whose hat* is very much burning upon his head. Anyone who bothered to read the body of the text, and not just the blaring headline, cannot avoid the impression that behind the headline "The Comptroller will Torpedo" lurks someone who is attempting to torpedo the Comptroller. Who is so afraid of the Comptroller's investigation of the Pollard issue?

The State Comptroller's investigation is being carried out at the instruction of the Knesset. After 23 years of Pollard languishing in prison, the Knesset State Control Committee gave the order to investigate whether, in fact, everything has been done which needed to be done to secure Pollard's release. The State Comptroller is not supposed to look only at the current government's handling of the case, but at the handling of all previous governments, throughout these long years.

Pollard joined American Naval Intelligence in 1979. Within a few years, in the course of his service as an analyst in the anti-terror unit, Jonathan Pollard was enlisted by LAKAM, the Scientific Liason Bureau in the Ministry of Defense, and began to transfer classified American documents to Israel. Rafi Eitan was the head of LAKAM at the time. Today he is the head of the Pensioners' Party and a minister in the government of Ehud Olmert. At the time of the operation, Shimon Peres was Prime Minister. Over the course of a year and a half, the information Pollard passed information to Israel was of enormous intelligence value.

In 1985 Pollard was exposed. He and Ann, his former wife, attempted to seek asylum at the Israeli Embassy in Washington, but were refused. Then-Prime Minister Peres agreed to the Americans' request, and Israel returned the purloined documents with Pollard's fingerprints on them. The documents were used as evidence against Pollard and it is believed that without them, he would never have been indicted. Ever since, Pollard has been languishing in an American prison. In 1998, after 13 years of turning its back, Israel officially recognized Pollard as an agent who worked on its behalf. But to this day, after 23 years in prison, Israel has not succeeded in securing his release.

A Sharp Letter from Pollard

The head of the Knesset State Control Committee, Zevulun Orlev, who initiated the investigation of the Pollard issue, hopes that this time answers will be forthcoming to weighty questions: Did the former and the present Prime Ministers really do everything they ought to have done? Did they seek and request Pollard's release? Did the State ask for a pardon for him? Did they at least request to have Pollard recognized as a Prisoner of Zion to ease his prison conditions?

Orlev stresses that prior to implementing the investigation by the State Comptroller, extensive negotiations were held with the Government and the coalition so as to obviate any opposition. "I invested hundreds of hours of work, to ensure a consentual process," he said this week.

Indeed, until this week, the investigation of the State Comptroller was smooth sailing. An array of Government and security officials, under the supervision of Amir Kain, Chief of Security for the Defense Ministry, provided opinions and documents to the State Comptroller.

The headlines in Yediot took Orlev by surprise. However, the head of the Knesset State Control Committee believes that, as opposed to what was claimed in the newspaper, the source is the Prime Minister's office, and not the Ministry of Defense.

"I recognize the Prime Minister's fingerprints," said Orlev, "and I can appreciate that from the time that people began handing over documents and giving testimony to the State Comptroller, the Prime Minister's office realized that they were not in a good position. The route they chose, and not for the first time either, was to try to undermine the credibility of the State Comptroller. This was an attempt to scare the Comptroller off. This was spin by the Prime Minister to save his own neck at Pollard's expense."

Be that as it may, what was it that occurred particularly last week, which caused such a panic in Prime Minister's office or amongst the nameless security officials in the Ministry of Defense? The response to this issue needs to be divided into two parts.

The first part is about the extensive, intense correspondence that has been going on for months now, between the Prime Minister's office and Pollard's attorney, Nitsana Darshan-Leitner, about money. Two days before the headlines in Yediot, the Prime Minister's office received a particularly sharp letter which Jonathan Pollard sent from his prison cell to PM Ehud Olmert. In his letter, Pollard takes strong exception to fallacious statements written by the Prime Minster's Public Relations Representative and by the Prime Minister's Legal Counsel which claim that, "The State of Israel is supporting and assisting Jonathan Pollard and his associates in every possible way."

In his letter, Pollard writes that contrary to the claims of the PM's Legal Counsel, neither he nor his wife, Esther, has ever received a single cent from the Government of Israel. "Therefore," writes Pollard to Olmert, "I instructed my attorney to request a detailed accounting from your office, including signed receipts, regarding financial support for me and for my wife."

"If, as you insist, your Government is allocating resources for me and my wife," Pollard continues, "but we are not receiving them, then who is getting the money? Are the funds being misappropriated by your office and used illegally elsewhere? While we do not know for certain what kind of corruption is going on, we do know that something smells very bad."

Barnea is also enlisted

It is no minor matter to receive a letter like this from a man who has been sitting in prison for more than 23 years. Taking care of the Pollard issue, responsibility for every aspect of the case, resides with the Prime Minister's Office. The last thing the Prime Minister needs is a gut-wrenching letter from Pollard in prison, accusing him of abandonment and financial malfeasance. Somehow or other, two days after the letter was faxed to the PM's office, the headlines appeared in Yediot Achronot.

Was Pollard's letter the trigger that caused the leak in Yediot? It is not improbable. The letter raises a critical issue: financial malfeasance. Unlike the government's claims about the efforts (or the lack of efforts) for his release - which can be dismissed relatively easily by citing matters of national interest and security - claims of financial malfeasance are far more difficult to deal with by means of a smokescreen. This is an issue that the State Comptroller can really sink his teeth into.

If one looks at the broader picture, this was also the week in which Noam Shalit - the agonized father of Gilad Shalit - pointed an accusing finger at the Prime Minister's office, saying that Olmert had achieved zero results in the efforts to free his son. At the same time, Micki Goldwasser, the mother of MIA Ehud Goldwasser, accused Olmert of creating three more 'Ron Arad cases' by the way he is handling the issue of Israel's captives and MIA's.

Orlev's hunch that the headlines in Yediot were initiated by the Prime Minister's office were confirmed two days later by Nachum Barnea, in his feature-length column in the weekend edition of the paper. What really angered Pollard, as he pointed out in his letter to Olmert, was the statement of the PM's Legal Counsel to Pollard's lawyer: "I do not see any place for providing the information which you requested, out of fear that this will damage Mr. Pollard's welfare and the efforts of the State of Israel to assist him." Pollard's attorney was also astonished by their response, "According to the law, the Prime Minister's office is obliged to provide me and my client with the financial data. I never imagined that they would behave this way."

Perversely, while the Prime Minister's office refuses to provide any information to Pollard and his attorney about the government's support for him, they provided figures to Yediot Achronot. In his column, Nachum Barnea, winner of the Israel Prize for Journalism, writes, "According to Government sources, Ann Pollard (his former wife) received, up until the year 2004, sums which add up to 2 million, seven hundred and fifty thousand dollars". The same officials, according to Barnea, "refuse to pinpoint the amount given to Jonathan Pollard and his wife Esther, but stress that the sums are high beyond measure." He even adds, "The former Cabinet Secretary, Israel Maimon, showed the accounting books to Orlev," and "the amounts were most impressive."

When I checked this week with Orlev and with the former Cabinet Secretary Israel Maimon, they both said the same thing: not the slightest truth to what Barnea wrote. "I never showed Zevulun Orlev any accounting books," attorney Israel Maimon told Makor Rishon. Orlev confirms: "It is not my job to oversee Barnea or the media, but Maimon is 100% correct." Someone, one of those "high ranking government sources" must be sweating an awful lot.

Pollard as a Pawn in a Game

Orlev says that in his estimation, the investigation by the State Comptroller won't continue much longer, "a few weeks at most." "The entire report will not be public," he adds. It will be relayed to a subcommittee of the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee for study."

It is to be hoped that the report will be completed before the visit of President Bush next month for the 60th anniversary celebration of the State of Israel. Officials who work closely on the Pollard issue believe that, "This is the penultimate moment, the perfect time to request Pollard's release as an American gesture to the State of Israel."

In this context, there are quite a few things which the State Comptroller can check out. For example, on the eve of Bush's previous visit to Israel (in January of this year), did the Prime Minister's office which is responsible for the Pollard issue, hold discussions on the possibility of requesting Pollard's release, or at least of beginning a process to request a pardon for him? What comes to mind with regard to the visit, is a letter by HaRav Ovadia Yosef to Bush requesting Pollard's release, which Olmert tried to prevent Minister Eli Yishai from delivering to the American President. The Prime Minister's office refuses to say whether for Bush's upcoming visit they intend to raise the issue.

This is where the second part of the puzzle comes into the picture. If indeed Olmert's office is hiding behind the same "high ranking sources in the Defense Ministry" which leaked the story and engaged Yediot in the matter; if Olmert and his people have any intention of demanding the release of Pollard, clearly, the window of opportunity extends from between the President's upcoming visit to Israel, to the end of his term in office this year.

Is Pollard's release, in this instance, intended to be an integral part of the signing of an overall agreement between Israel and the Palestinian Authority? If so, Olmert will not be the one who invented the wheel. Before him, there was Binyamin Netanyahu who demanded Pollard's release and got a commitment from then-President Clinton to release Pollard as part of the Wye Accords. As will be remembered, Clinton did not keep his word, and after signing the Wye Accords, he used the excuse that the head of the CIA was very opposed and would resign if Pollard were freed.

In his book, "The Missing Peace" Dennis Ross, President Clinton's Special Envoy to the Middle East, writes that in 1998, in the course of the Wye Summit, President Clinton asked him if Pollard's release were an important issue for Israel. Ross responded (p.438), "Yes, because he is considered a soldier for Israel and there is an ethos in Israel that you never leave a soldier behind in the field." It is not certain that in Israel in the year 2008, this same value of not leaving a solder in the field still holds. In any event, Ross recounts how he advised the President not to free Pollard because of his value as a political bargaining chip, even though he felt that Pollard deserved to be free because he had been punished more severely than others who had committed similar offenses in the US. "It would be a huge payoff for Bibi; you don't have many like this in your pocket. I would save it for permanent status. You will need it later, don't use it now," Ross writes.

This is essentially the condensed version of the tragedy of Jonathan Pollard, who has been transformed over the years, from being a prisoner to being a strategic possession.

Sharon also tried

Pollard's name also came up at the conclusion of Ariel Sharon's time in office. At the time, the Prime Minster felt, or so it would seem, that it would be easier for him to sell the Disengagement plan to the Israeli public, if as part of the plan, the release of Jonathan Pollard would be part of an overall agreement.

We learned this when former Ambassador to the US, Danny Ayalon, decided to reveal the story about a year ago, in attempt to revive a deal to free Marwan Barghouti in return for the release of Pollard.

Ayalon revealed that on the eve of the Disengagement, Sharon secretly offered a similar deal to the American administration in which Israel would free Marwan Barghouti and the US would free Jonathan Pollard. Ayalon broached the subject at a private meeting that he had with the American Secretary of State. However Condoleezza Rice rejected the idea out of hand. Sharon was not pleased. He needed something to encourage public compliance, and the return of Pollard would have given him the support he required. However the Americans were not interested.

In the end, during Sharon's visit to Bush's ranch, an agreement was reached between Sharon and Rice to permit Ayalon to visit Pollard in prison. Until then, Pollard had only been receiving visits at the consular level.

Last summer, Ayalon felt that the Americans, who were then interested in strengthening Abu Mazen by releasing Marwan Barghouti, might be willing to consider the deal again. But it did not happen. [See: Background: PM Ariel Sharon tried to release Barghouti, not Pollard].

At this time, a similar situation exists. The Wye Accords occurred towards the conclusion of Clinton's term in office, about a year prior to the end. Bush's schedule is similar. The Bush administration has already announced that by the end of 2008, an agreement will be signed between Israel and the Palestinians. Is there also a deal being cooked up this time to include Pollard's release in the Annapolis Accords, in order to lend legitimacy to the deal for the Israeli public? Is such a deal being sandwiched into a mega deal in which, in order to appease the Palestinians, Marwan Barghouti will be released? Is someone afraid that the State Comptroller is going to discover that Pollard is being used as a pawn in a game?

Zevulun Orlev says that the attempt to exploit Pollard as a strategic bargaining chip is a terrible thing. "The fear that this is the case has occurred to me," he says, "but I prefer not to rely on rumor." The Government is supposed to be held to account on this issue is by the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee. However MK Steinitz, a member of the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, says that he has no recollection of any discussion whatsoever regarding Pollard, in the last two years.

In response to our question this week, if in light of President Bush's upcoming visit to Israel next month, there has been any discussion in the Prime Minister's office of the possibility of requesting a pardon for Pollard from the American administration, the PM's office responded, "We are not in the habit of talking about the issue."

They can get away with a response like this when talking to Makor Rishon, but not with the State Comptroller. One thing is certain though, the Bush Administration is investing its full weight into assuring that a deal based on Annapolis will be signed by the end of the year. This is the only way for Bush and Rice to ensure that there will be something more to their legacy than America's failure in Iraq. Another thing that is certain, for the State Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss, there won't be a dull moment between now and Independence Day.

* J4JP Translator's Note:

"Upon the head of the thief, the hat burns" is a Hebrew aphorism which succinctly expresses the notion that guilt is so obvious that it marks the perpetrator like a burning hat upon his head.

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