Pollard: Israel AG Conspired to Obstruct Justice

October 2, 1997 - David Twersky, Editor in Chief - New Jersey Jewish News

Israeli Attorney General Eliyakim Rubinstein conspired to provide false testimony to the U.S. Justice Department, according to Jonathan Jay Pollard. The former civilian intelligence analyst for the U.S. Navy, who is serving a

life sentence

for spying for Israel on the United States, made the charge in papers filed on Sept. 18 with Israel's Supreme Court.

Pollard is seeking to bar Rubinstein from representing the Israeli government in a case now before that court. He wants the court to force the Israeli government to reveal details of its relationship with him during the period in which he was supplying it with classified U.S. material. He is also demanding the release of the full text of the commissions on inquiry appointed to investigate the Pollard affair.

According to Pollard's attorney, Larry Dub, there is a "strong reason to presume that these documents establish definitively that [Pollard] was an Israeli agent and not part of a rogue operation." The case is scheduled to be heard on Oct. 29.

It was Dub who submitted Pollard's petition to disqualify Rubinstein from representing the government on the grounds that he participated in a conspiracy to obstruct justice in the Pollard case.

On Nov. 21, 1985, Rubinstein was deputy chief of mission at Israel's Washington embassy when Pollard attempted to enter in order to avoid arrest. He was refused entry and immediately taken into custody by agents of the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

Pollard's quest to force the Israeli government to acknowledge that he was a formal, official agent lies at the heart of his current legal strategy. If he was an official agent, he and his attorney will argue, Israel has a legal obligation to secure his release. Since his arrest, Israel has sought to blame the operation on a "rogue" element within military intelligence, and to deflect responsibility from the top political echelons.

This latest twist in the long Pollard affair comes as a confidential State Department document sheds light on the tense relations between Washington and Jerusalem that followed Pollard's arrest and the decision to promote his Israeli contact, Aviam Sella. The cable was released to Pollard under the Freedom of Information Act and has been made available exclusively to the New Jersey Jewish News.

During the period after Sella had been indicted by the Americans and promoted by the Israelis, the Israeli government was portraying the intelligence services and air force as virtually out of control.

The March 1987 cable on "Pollard Case Aftermath" was sent from the U.S. Embassy in Tel Aviv to then secretary of state George W. Shultz. The cable details the record of a March 11, 1987, discussion between the U.S. deputy chief of mission, in effect the embassy's number two man, and a senior Israeli official or politician.

Arthur Hughes, now retired, was the embassy's DCM in March 1987. The identity of the senior Israeli is not known; the individual's name was blanked out of the FOIA-released document. Although Pollard expressed surprise that a member, or participant, in an inner cabinet meeting would "spill his guts" to the Americans, a high-level U.S. source has indicated to NJJN that the working lunch was routine.

The discussion came a little over a week after a federal indictment was handed down against Sella on March 3, 1987, charging him with three counts of espionage. Eighteen days after the meeting, Israel would announce that Sella would not be promoted to the command of the Tel Nof Air Force Base.

The Israeli who met with Hughes was sufficiently highly placed to have come to the embassy straight from a lengthy crisis meeting of the inner cabinet. The discussion took place "over a crackers-and-cheese luncheon," after the Israeli failed to keep a "restaurant luncheon date with DCM, [because] the prime minister had asked him not to leave until the inner cabinet meeting on the Pollard affair was over."

In March 1987, Yitzhak Shamir was prime minister, heading a national unity government that included the Labor Party. Members of the inner cabinet included Shamir, Moshe Arens, Yitzhak Rabin and Shimon Peres, among others. Traditionally, aides and advisers are also present at such meetings.

According to the cable, the senior Israeli believed "that the Pollard case had the potential to bring down the national unity government. If Sella were fired, he would become a folk hero, as has Pollard, and the public outcry could lead to collapse of the NUG [the national unity government]. GOI [the Government of Israel] is coming under increasing public pressure because of mounting dissatisfaction with the way the Pollard affair and its aftermath have been handled and some kind of official inquiry would be the best way of dealing with it. The domestic Israeli aspects have the precedence over the U.S.-GOI aspects."

Pollard's charge against Rubinstein stems from evidence in a new book by Leonard Garment, the Brooklyn-born attorney who served in various capacities in two administrations, including as president Richard M. Nixon's confidante and White House counsel.

The key evidence supporting Pollard's charge is found on pages 369-374 of Garment's book Crazy Rhythm (Random House Publishing, 1997).

Following Pollard's arrest, Garment was retained to represent Sella, the Israel Air Force colonel who had helped "handle" Pollard. During a trip to Israel to meet with Sella and his circle, Garment was told two contrasting versions of Sella's role. The "official" version, favored by Sella's Israeli team, essentially dismissed Sella's role. On the one occasion when Garment spoke at length with his client alone, however, he received Sella's account of his extensive involvement and took notes.

In June 1986, Sella's Israeli team arrived in Washington and told Garment they wanted him to give the Justice Department their version alleging Sella's non-involvement. Rubinstein was one of the Israelis at the critical meeting at Garment's home.

Garment's proposed draft was overruled and the Israelis insisted that theirs would be the one handed to Justice. Garment told the Israelis he would have no part in it because it "was demonstrably false, and the U.S. prosecutors could prove it."

The Israelis demanded to know how Garment could be so certain that his version of events was correct. When he read them his handwritten notes from his conversation with Sella, they heatedly demanded that he hand them over. He refused. After some shoving, the Israelis huddled, then told Garment that he was fired. Now that he was no longer Sella's attorney, they continued, he had no claim on, and no need for, the notes. Garment stood his ground and the confrontation subsided.

As a result of his having been there at the time, says Pollard, Rubinstein "was involved in a conspiracy in 1986 to obstruct justice in the U.S."

According to Garment, Israel "tried to keep Sella's name out of the investigations, [because] U.S. intelligence experts would have known that if an officer of his importance was involved in the operation, it would never have taken place without high-level approval."

Sella was the up-and-coming IAF star who had commanded the 1981 bombing of Iraq's nuclear facility in Osiraq; following Pollard's arrest, Israel initially denied that he had a senior Israeli handler. Meanwhile, Sella was promoted and assigned to command the Tel Nof base.

This infuriated the American government. U.S. government sources intimately familiar with the Washington-Jerusalem dialogue at the time have confirmed to the NJJN the substance of the March 11 cable.

The senior Israeli complained that "the government had to figure out a way to keep the intelligence services under control, but he was not sure how that could be done" - a comment that implied that in the Pollard affair, the top political echelons had not known what the intelligence services were doing.

For the Americans, it was "intolerable" that Sella should be promoted and that LAKAM chief Rafi Eitan, Sella's senior, also received a plum new assignment. If Pollard was a rogue agent, they argued, why promote his handlers? The American message to the Israelis was: Resolve this.

According to the cable, the senior Israeli felt the government was "in a squeeze with respect to Sella" and "thought that some kind of inquiry would diffuse the situation and allow things to cool off. Moreover, it would relieve the government itself from the tough decision of what to do about Sella. If the result of the inquiry was that he or others had to go, then no one could blame the government."

The senior Israeli said "the government had to figure out a way to keep the intelligence services under control, but he wasn't sure how that could be done."

The DCM replied that if, as Israel maintained, Sella and Eitan "had violated policy and had ignored procedures," they should be "punished". The symbolism of Sella and Eitan being rewarded not only would give encouragement to others in the future to engage in similar operations, but was a major contributor to the difficulties at present between our two countries. The advancement of Sella was a clear contradiction of Israel's commitment to the U.S. that individuals involved in the Pollard case would be dealt with accordingly. "Sella and Tel Nof were now off limits, as far as we were concerned."

Pressed on Sella's promotion, the Israeli "again referred to the possibility of the government falling if it were to fire Sella. He blamed [then defense minister] Rabin for getting the government into this mess because he had not stood up to the Israel Air Force and Chief of Staff Levy in quashing Sella's assignment as Tel Nof commander." The Israeli "said that Rabin's reputation as a strong Minister of Defense with strong relations with the forces was 'no more.'"

The fact that the Israeli underscored a close tie to the prime minister, and then blamed the intelligence services for the Pollard affair and the air force for imposing the Sella promotion on a weak defense minister indicates the possibility that he was delivering a message from the prime minister to the U.S. secretary of state, sources said.

In the event, the strategy of appointing inquiry commissions to get the government off the hook backfired. According to Pollard, the Eban and Rottenstreich-Tzur commissions "pointed a finger at the Ministry of Defense, all way to the top."

The Eban committee report, most of which remains classified, stated that the "decision to run Pollard and all the stages of implementation were made by officials of the state who drew their authority from the government and, more accurately, from the intelligence services of the State of Israel."

Pollard, however, said those responsible for his espionage included the top political leaders. "Some tasking orders bore the stamp of the military adviser to the prime minister," he said. "It was not a 'rogue operation,'" Pollard insisted. "My material was discussed in the cabinet."

In trying to limit the damage, Pollard said, the Israeli government "submitted fraudulent testimony" about Sella "designed to obscure the fact this was an official operation."

Pollard believes that Israel's Sella strategy brought Washington's full "wrath" on his own head. "The U.S. government was hysterical about Eitan and Sella being promoted, and they took it out on me."