Ambassador and Spy

James Morrison - The Washington Times - Embassy Row Column - June 23, 2010

Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren shocked legislators in Jerusalem and forced Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to correct his envoy in Washington after Mr. Oren appeared to be rewriting history this week in a 25-year-old Israeli spy case.

Mr. Oren sparked the diplomatic affair Monday when he told a Washington radio station that the notorious spy Jonathan Pollard - convicted in 1986 for passing U.S. secrets in a case that rocked American-Israeli relations - worked for a "rogue organization" within Israeli intelligence. His statement contradicted the official Israeli position that Pollard was an agent handled by senior Israeli officials.

"Jonathan Pollard occurred in the mid-1980s," Mr. Oren said in an interview with WTOP radio on Monday. "Now we're talking about an event that was run by a rogue organization in the Israeli intelligence community. That was, what, 25 years ago."

Members of the Israeli parliament, the Knesset, called on the government to censure Mr. Oren and order him to apologize. Mr. Netanyahu on Tuesday responded to the controversy without directly criticizing the ambassador.

"Pollard worked as an agent of the state of Israel, and no one is trying to deny this," the prime minister said.

The Israeli Embassy in Washington issued a clarification of Mr. Oren's comments also on Tuesday.

"Ambassador Michael Oren wished to clarify that, in responding to a journalist's question, he attempted to emphasize that the Pollard incident occurred over 25 years ago by a unit that no longer exists, for which Israel took full responsibility," the embassy said.

"As has been stated, Mr. Pollard worked for and on behalf of Israel, and the ambassador hopes for his earliest release."

Pollard used his position as a U.S. Navy intelligence analyst to pass thousands of secret documents to the Israeli Bureau of Scientific Relations, a now-defunct group that worked for the Defense Ministry. However, the directors of key ministries and intelligence agencies were regularly briefed on the work of the American-born spy.

He was sentenced to

life in prison

in 1986, as he tried to seek asylum in the Israeli Embassy. Israel conferred citizenship on Pollard in 1996 and, two years later, admitted that he spied for the government.

  • See Also: Document: Official Recognition as An Agent by the State of Israel