Continued Stonewalling in Pollard Spy Case Hurts Israel

September 12, 1987 - William Safire - The Palm Beach Post

Throughout the U.S. government, the cause of Israel has suffered a steep decline in the last year.

At the Defense Department, jubilation prevails at the shooting down of Israel's bid for technological independence in the international aircraft market. The United States, which had been paying the bills for developing the Lavi fighter, forced the Israeli Cabinet to bow to the inevitable.

At the State Department the star of Syria's Hafez Assad is rising. The most potent and implacable of Israel's enemies is no longer being exposed as the center of terrorism; instead, Damascus is being courted at Foggy Bottom as if its savage regime had turned over a new leaf.

At the National Security Council in the White House, the decision was made to support Arab Iraq against Persian Iran in the gulf war -- a strategy bitterly opposed by every visiting Israeli Cabinet official.

What's the reason for the fall of Israeli influence? Some point to the backlash from the Iran arms-for-hostages swap, or the ascendance of the Arab-leaning national security adviser, Frank Carluccii Others find the cause in the two-headedness of the coalition government in Jerusalem.

The underlying reason for Israel's new impotence here, in my view, is in information still being developed at the Justice Department. The festering Pollard spy case -- and the refusal of Israel's aging leaders to face up to the urgent need to treat the source of infection -- makes possible the defeat of Israeli economic, anti-terrorist and strategic arguments all through the U.S. government.

Pollard? Wasn't the American traitor, hired to provide a roomful of secret documents to Israel, convicted and jailed? Wasn't the Israeli general who handled the operation indicted here and induced to resign his air force commission? Most Americans and Israelis think the story ended with that, and with the absolute guarantee from the Shamir-Peres coalition that such spying has stopped.

But the Pollard case is far from over. While the jailed spy is conveniently forgotten by the government that used him, two prominent former Israeli officials remain protected by a fearful political establishment.

Rafi Eitan and Avraham Bender are legendary figures in the world of espionage. Together they led the team that kidnapped Adolf Eichmann in Buenos Aires in 1960 and brought that war criminal before the bar of Israeli justice. Eight years later the same two Mossad operatives appeared at an Apollo, Pa., nuclear processing plant, and following their visit 587 pounds of U.S. weapons-grade uranium was reported missing.

Bender, using the, alias "Avraham Shalom," rose to the top of the internal security service, Shin Beth. When a news photograph provided evidence that his men murdered a couple of Palestinian terrorist prisoners, his agency was caught trying to frame an army commander; however, Bender and his aides resigned and received a presidential pardon.

Rafi Eitan did fairly well, too. He headed Lekem, an intelligence unit set up outside: Mossad to provide deniability by high officials, which recruited the Pollards (and perhaps another American unknown to the Pollards) to steal U.S. secrets. When the operation blew up, Eitan also resigned and was rewarded with a top state-owned industry job.

To give the appearance of an investigation, Prime Minister Shamir -- who served a decade in the Mossad -- appointed a non-judicial board, which issued the expected whitewash. A Knesset committee under Abba Eban waggled a finger but could not penetrate the wall of secrecy.

However, U.S. officials who talked to Eitan under a grant of immunity believe he lied to them; as a result, a grand jury in Washington may indict him one of these days, along with two Israeli diplomats who were spirited out of the country as the Pollards were caught. Bender is suspected of aiding the cover-up of his sidekick's "renegade" activity.

None of the Israelis charged with espionage here will be returned to stand trial; instead they will continue to be protected by a coalition of cover-up in Jerusalem that puts a personal fear of the exposure of ministerial involvement ahead of the long term security interests of the state.

What has the unconscionable stonewalling done for Israel? Let's see; aircraft workers are unemployed, Syria's Assad is rehabilitated, objections are, muted to the pro-Arab tilt in the gulf war, Israel's supporters in the United States are sick at heart -- and that's only the beginning.

William Safire is a columnist for The New York Times.

Note: William Safire's mischaracterization of Jonathan Pollard has not stood the test of time. Nevertheless, this article does provide insight into why, 10 years later, Jonathan Pollard has had to take the government of Israel to court to force them to tell the truth and take responsibility once and for all for the operation that Pollard took part in. Israel has yet to come clean on her role in the affair and the Americans continue to vent their anger on Pollard for that.

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