JERUSALEM (JTA) – Why does the U.S. establishment seem so intent on prosecuting an 84-year-old man for crimes allegedly committed nearly a quarter of a century ago?
That’s the question many Israelis were asking after the details began to emerge last week of the arrest of Ben-Ami Kadish on charges of spying for Israel more than 20 years ago.
One theory, expressed by some Israeli politicians and opinion makers across the political spectrum, is that there are officials in the Pentagon, Justice Department and U.S. intelligence community with a strong anti-Israel bias who seize every opportunity to compromise Israel’s strategic ties with the United States.
By going public with the Kadish affair now, the theory goes, these U.S. officials hope to cast a shadow on President Bush’s upcoming 60th anniversary visit to Israel and put to rest any chance that Bush will release convicted spy Jonathan Pollard as a birthday gift to Israel.
A second, more elaborate theory in some ways is more convincing. Many of the Americans involved in the Pollard case were and are still convinced that Pollard, who was jailed for life in 1986 for spying for Israel, was aided and abetted by a highly placed source in the U.S. administration. They maintain that Pollard received precise details, even catalog numbers, of top secret files and documents – information that only could have come from someone very senior in the Reagan administration.
Eitan Haber, a close adviser to then-Defense Minister Yitzhak Rabin, recalls then-U.S. Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger angrily banging on the table in meetings with Rabin and demanding that Israel reveal the identity of the suspected super mole.
“Tell me who the second Pollard is,” Weinberger reportedly thundered. “Give me the name.”
Years later, when President Clinton apparently agreed to release Pollard as part of a deal with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at Wye Plantation in 1998, then-CIA Director George Tenet threatened to resign – presumably because Israel still wouldn’t name names.
The super-mole theory would help explain why Pollard has been kept in jail all these years: Only if Israel named the putative super mole would the United States release Pollard. Indeed, it was to track down the suspected super mole that the Americans kept a “Pollard & Co.” file open for more than two decades. That was how they stumbled onto Kadish some time in 2004.
Haber, however, insists there was no “second Pollard” or super mole. In any case, he told JTA that Kadish, then an army engineer with access to relatively low-level technological data, in no way fits the bill.
Still, the fact that Kadish is not the subject does not invalidate the super-mole hypothesis; on the contrary.
Concern apparently exists in U.S. intelligence quarters that Bush might release Pollard as a 60th anniversary gesture to Israel. But the key intelligence players who still believe Israel is holding out on naming the putative super mole want to keep the Pollard card as pressure on Israel to come clean. On this reading, U.S. intelligence chose to go public with the Kadish affair now in an effort to ensure that Bush doesn’t free Pollard without Israel naming the supposed super mole.
Israeli officials are reluctant to comment on the substance of the Kadish affair, but they point out that even if the allegations against Kadish are true, he was active only until July 1985. They maintain that in itself, that underscores the single key factor in the subtext around the case: Absolutely no Israeli spying of any kind has taken place in America since the Pollard affair broke in 1985.
Haber, who served in the Israeli government during and immediately after the Pollard affair, notes that in its wake Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir issued strict instructions against any form of spying in America – a position re-emphasized by his immediate successors, Rabin and Shimon Peres.
Senior Israeli officials say this remains the government position today.
“Since 1985 great care has been taken to observe the directives of the prime ministers not to conduct activities of this kind in the United States,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Arye Mekel declared.
Israeli officials claim that if another spy was operating during the Pollard years, they were unaware. Cabinet Minister Rafi Eitan, who was then the head of the intelligence organization Lakam, the Bureau of Scientific Relations that ran the Pollard operation, claims never to have heard Kadish’s name.
Micha Harish, a Labor legislator on the Knesset panel under former Foreign Minister Abba Eban that investigated the Pollard affair, stated categorically that at the time they had no knowledge of any other Israeli spies in America.
“There were rumors spread mainly by the Americans, but we came to the conclusion that the Pollard affair was a one-off, very amateurish, rogue operation,” Harish told JTA.
Harish speculates that Yosef Yagur, the Israeli official who handled Pollard and is suspected of handling Kadish, may have broken off the Kadish connection in the wake of the Pollard affair without ever reporting it.
As for the super-mole theory, Harish rejects it out of hand and offers a different explanation for America’s longstanding refusal to free Pollard.
“American officials told me they were afraid that if they released Pollard, they would legitimize spying on the U.S. by other friendly states – like, say, Britain or Japan – which would create an intolerable situation for America’s open society,” he said.
The Pollard affair had a devastating impact on Israel-U.S. relations. It took years to rebuild trust between the two governments and the two intelligence communities.
Will the Kadish affair have similar repercussions? Most Israeli officials doubt it.
Likud legislator Yuval Steinitz expressed a widespread sentiment last week when he called it “a storm in a tea cup that would soon blow over.”
Some Americans are taking a different view, however.
Joseph diGenova, the prosecutor in the Pollard case, says the Kadish affair shows that Israel lied when it said there were no other spies in the United States besides Pollard.
This highlights Israel’s problem with the Kadish case. More than the documents on F-15 fighters, Patriot anti-missile systems and nuclear programs Kadish is said to have passed on to Israel, the problem for Israel will be to prove there was no subsequent high-level cover-up of Kadish or any other putative moles’ activities.
The U.S. intelligence players likely will use the case to pressure Israel to acknowledge all past spy connections in the United States, and Israel will try to prove that it genuinely has done all it can already in this effort.