Officials Worry About Effects of Spy Accusations

Abraham Rabinovich - The Washington Times - August 30, 2004

JERUSALEM - Israeli officials yesterday said reports that a Pentagon analyst passed classified information to Israel seriously could damage the nation's image in America, even as they denied any role in such an operation.

"There is no doubt that these publications are damaging, [and] even though they are false, they are damaging," said Natan Sharansky, who as minister for diaspora affairs is responsible for the effects of anti-Semitism on Jews worldwide.

American officials said this weekend that the FBI has spent more than a year investigating whether a Pentagon analyst funneled highly classified material to Israel concerning U.S. policy toward Iran.

Both Israel and the United States are worried that Iran's nuclear-energy program is a front for an effort to develop nuclear weapons.

"I hope [the investigation] is all a mistake or misunderstanding of some kind," Mr. Sharansky told the Canadian Broadcasting Corp.

Mentioning "the Pentagon and the CIA" specifically, Mr. Sharansky suggested that the probe might have resulted from "a rivalry between different bodies."

Former Mossad chief Danny Yatom said the Israeli government laid down strict guidelines to prohibit espionage against its major ally after the arrest in 1985 of Israeli spy Jonathan Pollard.

Pollard, a former official in U.S. Naval Intelligence, is serving a life sentence in the United States.

Although the two countries have very close defense and political ties, the American intelligence community has been sensitive to the possibility of Israeli intelligence penetration ever since Pollard's arrest.

With the issue dominating Israeli public-affairs shows yesterday, Mr. Yatom pointed out that Israeli and American officials and academics have hundreds of formal and informal meetings every year.

"It could be that someone [in the United States] innocently did something that is forbidden by American law. But there was no mobilization of agents by Israel or instructions given to them about what to look for, as with Pollard," he said.

Mr. Yatom said he hoped the latest episode would prove to be no more serious than "an unnecessary initiative on the part of an American official."

Another former senior Mossad official, Uzi Arad, said he had met with the Pentagon analyst named in press reports as the suspect, Larry Franklin, along with other Pentagon officials as part of his ongoing contacts in the United States.

"Our two countries have open relations," he said. "Collegial relations. It's clear that when we get together we don't talk about the Olympics."

Nevertheless, the investigation provides ammunition to those who charge that Israel has undue influence in the United States and that it influenced Washington to undertake the war in Iraq - a charge dismissed as absurd by both the Bush administration and Israel.

The episode also has renewed concerns about conflicted loyalties among American Jews, which were brought to the fore by the Pollard affair.

Although Mr. Franklin is not Jewish, the purported mole is suspected of having passed on secrets regarding American policy on Iran to two members of the pro-Israeli lobby, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, who in turn passed them on to an Israeli official.

Senior Jewish officials in the Bush administration - including Mr. Franklin's boss, Undersecretary of Defense Douglas J. Feith - also have been accused of promoting the war with Iraq as a way to help Israel.

Mr. Arad seemed to suggest in an interview with Israeli radio that the press reports were deliberately leaked to hurt Israel's supporters in Washington.

"They pointed out in which office [Mr. Franklin] worked," he said. "They pointed at people like Doug Feith or other defense officials who have long been under attack within the American bureaucracy."

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