Spies and Sensitivities

Shlomo Gazit - The Jerusalem Post - January 4, 1994

[Posted to web August 14, 2001]

Click here to go straight to Jonathan Pollard's Comments.

The campaign to free Jonathan Pollard, sentenced to life imprisonment for spying in the US on behalf of Israel, is making headlines again, here and in the US.

Pressure from many different directions has led President Bill Clinton to request an up-to-date opinion from the officials concerned before he makes a decision on the issue.

Israel - and our government particularly - should not be a party to this campaign. We made a mistake right at the beginning, and anything we do now can only compound the error.

The problem wasn't morality; it was political feasibility.

There is an old, honored principle in Israeli intelligence work: No espionage inside the US.

We don't try to activate secret intelligence sources to gather information about the American defense system;

We don't activate such sources within the US defense system, even if the information concerns an Arab foe or a third party supplying weapons to our Arab enemies;

We don't engage in secret intelligence-gathering in the US against Middle Eastern targets.

The basic consideration is simple: The political interests that bind Israel and the US preclude our taking any steps which could threaten the relationship.

Running Jonathan Pollard as a secret intelligence-gathering source blatantly contradicted this principle. The value to Israel of the information Pollard supplied was simply no compensation for the political-psychological damage that ensued.

And recruiting Pollard, an officer in US Navy Intelligence, exacerbated the offense, since the American intelligence community is already a sensitive one.

The US Navy, in particular, has an old "account" to settle with Israel. Again and again, it has claimed that the attack on the USS Liberty by the Israeli Navy and Air Force in the Six Day War wasn't a deplorable mistake, but an intentional act.

And recruiting a Jewish source raised the issue of American Jewry's loyalty to the US flag, and whether that community's primary loyalty is to the US or to Israel. It is fortunate that Pollard acted for financial reward. [J4JP Note : This is one of Gazit's many outright lies! See Jonathan Pollard's comments that follow this article to understand Gazit's motive.]

ISRAEL ALSO erred during the investigation of the affair - not just by preventing the direct interrogation of those concerned by American legal bodies, but by allowing our own investigation to conclude without those involved being punished.

The conclusion the Americans came to was that we had something to hide. And our government gave the appearance of endorsing it.

As long as a public, non-official committee is working in the US and Israel to free Pollard, there is no reason for us to dissociate ourselves from it. On the contrary. But when the government intervenes, directly, on Pollard's behalf, all it does is revive suspicions about its direct involvement in the affair.

Finally, being outside the US defense establishment, we cannot determine whether releasing Pollard now would constitute a security danger, 10 years after his arrest. Ten years is a long time, but there is definitely information that retains its importance and sensitivity even after that long.

We cannot advise the Americans on the Pollard issue, or make their decisions for them. Outgoing Defense Secretary Les Aspin is known as a great friend and supporter of Israel. We must accept as credible his view that Pollard continues to pose a threat to American security.

We are highly sensitive about any Israeli convicted of spying for another power. There is no great rush on our part to ease the punishment of anyone tried and jailed on that charge. And Israeli Mordechai Vanunu is being held in jail, in isolation, for a reason similar to that in the Pollard case - the fear that he may leak still-sensitive information.

We would be reluctant to heed intervention from a foreign state on behalf of such prisoners - all the more from one which recruited and activated a spy for its own benefit. That should be our guideline in the Pollard case.

Jonathan Pollard's Comments

January 4, 1994

When I first read General Gazit's essay, I couldn't believe that he had actually submitted it for publication prior to President Clinton's response to my commutation appeal. What was he trying to accomplish? My permanent imprisonment?

At the very least, Gazit should never have publicly encouraged the Israeli government to maintain its "implausible deniability" excuse. Apart from the fact that it had been totally discredited years before, it tended to really enrage the Americans, who deeply resented having to hear it over and over again ad nauseum. Indeed, a government source at the time observed that for Gazit to have cautioned the government against becoming more closely involved with me on the grounds that it might revive "suspicions" about its own culpability, was akin to closing the barn door after the horse had escaped.

Unfortunately for General Gazit and his friends, the U.S. Government was fully aware of just how official my supposedly "rogue" operation had actually been. And they simply were not going to let Jerusalem off the hook without a full admission of responsibility. Of course, the fact that I was paying the price for the Israeli political establishment's refusal to come clean on this matter didn't seem to bother individuals like General Gazit at all. In fact, he went so far as to argue that the Americans could be placated if the Israeli government would simply do 3 things: (1) reaffirm its "honored principle" of not conducting espionage operations within the U.S. ; (2) Limit punishment to a small group of renegade intelligence officers, and (3) treat me as an expendable mercenary.

Although I found Gazit's first two suggestions to be too preposterous to be taken seriously by anybody, it was his truly shameful attempt to misrepresent my motives which really sickened me. I mean, wasn't their abandonment of me bad enough?

Granted, I suppose that from Gazit's perspective, mischaracterizing me as a mercenary did have some obvious advantage, foremost amongst which was the fact that it would relieve the Israeli government of any moral responsibility for my fate. It was also seen as an extremely effective way of calming a number of prominent American Jewish leaders, who were scared to death that my portrayal as a Zionist ideologue would somehow call into question their own patriotism.

However, as far as the U.S. Government was concerned, making a big deal out of my alleged moral turpitude was seen as just another play by certain Israeli officials to avoid having to address the issue of their own accountability. And in any event, the Israeli government had already vouched for my ideological bona fides during the course of several high level discussions of this matter with the Justice Department. So for Gazit to even raise the issue of my motives was not only pointless, it was also extremely counter productive, especially if his goal were to present the Americans with some type of human peace offering.

I think it's safe to say, then, that Shlomo Gazit just couldn't appreciate the fact that the Israeli Government didn't have the luxury of insulating itself from the affair. Granted, this might have been an option had the Americans been willing to treat Israelis like any of its other allies which had been caught in similar circumstances. But in my case, what should have been a momentary embarrassment between friends was being used instead as a means of humiliating and intimidating the Israelis.

To his credit, General Ariel Sharon understood what was going on here and urged the adoption of a more muscular response by Israel. In short, what Sharon proposed was to secure my repatriation in exchange for all the documents I'd provided my Israeli contacts. That, he argued, would at least win a little respect from the Americans -and possibly a little play for me.

Gazit, on the other hand who was forever living in fear of the "Empire", honestly believed that the Americans could be brought around to forgiving Israel if only the government would treat the case as an opportunity to reaffirm its subservience to Washington. And if that involved throwing national honor out the window and sacrificing an agent who had loyally served the state, then so be it.

Although Gazit would probably disagree with me, I think it's safe to say that it was his views, perhaps more than anybody else's, which ultimately shaped Israeli governmental policy on this case. There was, however, a very personal aspect to the General's unsympathetic attitude towards me which will, I think, provide a better appreciation of what was really concerning him at the time.

It should be noted that General Shlomo Gazit was no "ordinary" Israeli general. Indeed, as a former head of AMAN, the IDF's Military Intelligence Corps, he was probably one of the most important uniformed members of the Israeli Intelligence establishment. Since I, too, had worked for a Ministry of Defense intelligence unit, LAKAM, which coordinated many of its collection activities with AMAN, it was quite understandable that Gazit wanted to ensure that neither he nor any of his former colleagues would be implicated in my affair.

Given the fact, though, that I had received specific taskings from each of the 3 uniformed intelligence agencies that comprise AMAN, the organization was tied in directly with my operation. Moreover, Gazit himself was more than likely involved with drawing up some of my collection requirements, since he held a high level position within AMAN during the time I was active.

That is why General Gazit was so adamant that my affair be falsely characterized as an unauthorized operation, conducted exclusively by LAKAM renegades. Basically, I'm sure he felt that as long as everybody's attention was focused on another organization, his own would escape unharmed.

Not surprisingly, once LAKAM was disbanded and its files were all transferred to AMAN, there was a massive effort apparently made to destroy whatever evidence there was establishing the organization's involvement with the affair. Unfortunately for AMAN, though, the sanitization process wasn't as complete as it should have been, and the noose began to tighten. This is why, contrary to the impression left by General Gazit in his essay, he was one of the most vociferous opponents of the National Unity Government's decision to allow the Eban/Rosenstreich-Tzur Commissions of Inquiry to be formed in the wake of my sentencing.

Although a recently-obtained State Department cable (FOIA) clearly establishes that the Israeli government had hoped these Commissions would take the heat off the politicians by blaming the intelligence establishment for the affair, both groups stunned the Ministry of Defense, in particular, by issuing reports that unambiguously confirmed the legitimacy and official nature of my operation.

The government's response was all too predictable: as soon as it could it classified the findings and quietly pensioned off the so-called "renegades" involved in the operation to ensure their silence. So General Gazit could sanctimoniously call for their punishment in the press, secure in the knowledge that the government wouldn't dare act on his demand out of fear that the defendants would simply ask the High Court to declassify their innocence. And nobody in AMAN, wanted that to occur under any circumstances.

As for me, well, that was another matter. I'm sure I couldn't overstate the Ministry of Defense's desire to see me rot in prison for the rest of my life. Certainly, General Gazit's rather bizarre endorsement of my continued incarceration makes more sense if seen within the context of his effort to protect himself and AMAN.

After all, as long as I was in prison how could I have testified to the fact that my tasking had come straight from the service intelligence agencies? Believe me, everybody was aware of the fact that I'd seen who'd signed off on those orders. And not one of those officers, could possibly have been described as either a "renegade" or a nationalist fanatic. Not unless, of course, the entire Israeli military intelligence establishment was "off the reservation", so to speak. And that was simply not the case.

Granted, many of the high-level individuals involved in my operation were cowardly, amoral and incompetent. But I really don't believe that they were part of some diabolical plot to run LAKAM as a private, right wing intelligence agency. How can I be so sure?

The fact is, both Yitzhak Rabin and Shimon Peres knew that LAKAM was running an American agent in the heart of the U.S. intelligence community.

Given obvious political dangers involved with this type of operation, if either of these gentlemen sensed that my activities were actually serving the interest of their political rivals, rather than those of the state, believe me, the operation would have been immediately terminated. But as you know, that dubious honor went to the FBI, not the Labor Party.
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