WASHINGTON (Jun. 17)
Israeli Justice Minister Yitzhak Modai said Tuesday he expected the Reagan Administration to release as soon as possible an “official statement” detailing the findings of its continued investigation into the Jonathan Pollard espionage affair.
But in a press conference following a string of high-level meetings here over the past two days, Modai indicated that the Israeli government would not renew its own inquiry into the case by seeking further interviews with those Israelis already “tried” in connection with the scandal.
Last December a team of American investigators was permitted to interview three Israelis who had been involved in the transfer of secret U.S. documents from Jonathan Pollard, a civilian Navy analyst, to Israel. Following the visit in Israel, the State Department announced that the Israeli government had extended its “full cooperation” in the inquiry and had returned all documents obtained “in an unauthorized manner.”
POLLARD DISCLOSES DETAILS
But the indictment issued against Pollard and his wife Anne Henderson-Pollard earlier this month named as co-conspirators two Israelis whose alleged roles in the affair had been disclosed by Pollard as part of his plea bargain. Their names — Aviem Sella, now a senior Israeli Air Force Commander, and Irit Erb, who was a secretary at the Embassy in Washington, had not come up in the interviews conducted by the American team when they visited Israel.
The indictment also contained details of what the Israeli government has called a “rogue operation,” but which, according to Pollard’s account and the indictment, involved substantial sums of money. The new allegations have led to suggestions by Justice Department officials and others that the Israeli espionage operation was both authorized and more extensive than previously believed.
Following angry comments from the Israeli government about the comments, given mostly by unnamed officials to the press, the State Department and White House maintained that the U.S. had no evidence of a larger operation and commended Israel for abiding by its agreement to fully cooperate with the U.S. investigation.
‘THE WHOLE THING IS BLOWN UP’
Obviously prepared for the barrage of questions about Israel’s role in the affair, Modai used the forum of Tuesday’s press conference to vent his frustration at what he maintained was a campaign of not yet proven allegations by Administration officials and in the American press.
“The whole thing is blown up. I don’t want to blame anybody, but it only happened when I arrived in this country, and I tell you I got the shock of my life. How could it blow up beyond any proportion?” he told reporters. He said that in his meetings Monday with Secretary of State George Shultz and Attorney General Edwin Meese, he had urged that the U.S. investigation of the affair be “accelerated” so that speculation can be put to rest.
But in spite of his willingness to forcefully tackle each and every question put forward, Modai almost appeared as though he were under investigation himself, and the lingering suggestions of a government cover up seemed far from the point of being laid to rest.
PRESTIGIOUS APPOINTMENTS QUESTIONED
Specifically, there were questions about the appointments of Rafi Eitan — who had directed the operation through a now disbanded unit for the gathering of scientific data — and Aviem Sella, who allegedly acted as a liaison in the operation, to prestigious positions in Israel following Pollard’s arrest.
Modai said that he himself, in his capacity at the time of Finance Minister, had approved Eitan’s appointment as chairman of the Board of a government-owned chemical enterprise, but maintained that it was not “in reward or in compensation” for his espionage activities.
“It was in reward for nothing, but in consideration of the past services of this particular gentleman,” Modai asserted. He added that Eitan had been in failing health.
As for Sella, who was in the country as a graduate student when he allegedly became involved in the Pollard operation, Modai maintained that it was up to the military to investigate the allegations in the Pollard indictment. Sella has been given command of a large Israeli air base.
Yosef Yagur, a former science attache at the Israeli Consulate in New York who was named in the indictment, has been appointed to a position in the same state-owned chemical company to which Eitan was transferred, The Jerusalem Post recently reported.
ASSAILS PRESS, JUSTICE DEPT.
The Justice Minister, who has been in his current post for barely a couple of months, acknowledged that the appointments of Eitan and Sella create an incriminating appearance, but maintained that “what appears is not necessarily the real facts.”
He railed at the press and, indirectly at the Justice Department’s officials who have been leaking allegations of a cover up, for taking Pollard’s words as evidence of Israeli government involvement.
“If you intimate that this is the tip of the iceberg, then where is the iceberg? If you intimate that there were other cases, where are the other cases? If you suggest that Israeli authorities knew about it, who is it who gave you the evidence?” Modai asked.
In an earlier briefing with the Israeli press, the Justice Minister reportedly denied that there had been any request from the U.S. to receive another American delegation for further interviews with Israelis about the Pollard case. But he said that such a delegation would be welcome as long as the Israelis involved agreed to be interviewed.
Nevertheless, he maintained that the Israeli inquiry of the three who were interviewed by the American team was closed and that they would not be subjected to a second “trial” regarding the Pollard case. “We don’t try people twice. That’s the law in Israel,” he maintained. The Israeli inquiry, it was explained latter, took the form of an administrative hearing.