Israeli police are searching for a U.S. military officer who is missing from his base in Texas and believed to be in the Jewish state.
A woman claiming to be the girlfriend of Jeremiah Mattysse, who reportedly is a convert to Judaism, said the lieutenant colonel had spied for Israel.
Israeli sources said Mattysse’s disappearance – he did not return from scheduled leave on Aug. 7 – was more likely related to a romantic entanglement.
In media interviews, the woman, Rivka Nir, said Mattysse, 50, sent to her home bags of classified documents he had access to while serving as head of an intelligence unit at Camp Bullis in San Antonio.
Nir, 48, said Mattysse later removed the documents and deposited them in safe deposit boxes around the country.
She said Mattysse had been in Israel since the beginning of August, moving around disguised with a beard and wig and sleeping in a tent. She said he told her he wanted to seek political asylum in Syria, because “Israel will betray him, as well as other Arab countries that have relations with the U.S. and receive weapons from it.”
Mattysse was reassigned as a U.S. Army Reserve group in San Antonio after an investigation was launched into a possible extramarital affair.
His disappearance is of “heightened concern” because of his intelligence background, a spokesman for the U.S. Army Reserve Command was quoted as saying.
The San Antonio Express-News reported that Mattysse’s wife, Vanda, filed for divorce on March 7. An attorney for Vanda Mattysse reported that a divorce is pending.
Nir, who also has American citizenship, likened Mattysse’s situation to that of Jonathan Pollard, a former U.S. naval intelligence analyst serving a life sentence for spying for Israel.
In an interview with Israel Radio, Nir said Mattysse only wanted to help Israel, and when he came to her, they “raised a cup” in honor of Israel.
But security officials dismissed suggestions of a serious security breach, and members of Nir’s family said most of her claims were “fantasy” with perhaps a “grain of truth.”
Israel’s deputy defense minister, Ephraim Sneh, dismissed a suggestion that Israel might try to exchange Mattysse for Pollard.
“I don’t think anyone is dealing with that at the moment,” Sneh told Israel Army Radio.
U.S. officials formally asked for Israel’s help in locating the errant officer in a meeting last Friday with Prime Minister Ehud Barak, who immediately agreed. The military attache to the U.S. Embassy interviewed Nir over the weekend as part of efforts to locate Mattysse.
The incident was splashed across all of Israel’s papers, with the tabloid Yediot Achronot dedicating a seven-page spread to the story.