JERUSALEM (Mar. 9)
Abba Eban, chairman of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Security Committee, announced Monday that its subcommittee on intelligence will open a determined investigation Thursday into the Jonathan Pollard affair.
Eban said he rejects Premier Yitzhak Shamir’s assertion earlier Monday that the matter is “closed” and his refusal to appear before the Knesset body. The special subcommittee “reserves the right to summon anyone we see fit, both ministers and civil servants,” Eban declared. He said Defense Minister Yitzhak Rabin would be the first called to testify.
The subcommittee meets in camera and is not prone to the leaks which frequently emanate from the full committee.
Eban, a Labor MK and former Foreign Minister, appears to have the backing of virtually all committee members, from left to right, to conduct a thoroughgoing probe of the government’s involvement with Pollard who was sentenced to life imprisonment in Washington last week for spying for Israel.
CLOSED SESSION SCHEDULED FOR WEDNESDAY
Shamir came under heavy pressure from several Ministers at Sunday’s Cabinet meeting to order a full-scale judicial inquiry. He promised that the Inner Cabinet (five Labor and five Likud Ministers) would convene in closed session Wednesday to consider the issue in depth.
But Shamir warned the Knesset Monday that “hysteria fanned in Israel” could “infect the United States to Israel’s great detriment.” He claimed that criticism of the government’s handling of the affair by members of the Knesset committee and others seemed sharper than criticism voiced in the U.S.
Eban dismissed that argument and informed the Premier of his committee’s intention to launch a probe. The stiff sentence imposed on Pollard, a former civilian intelligence analyst employed by the U.S. Navy, indicated to many Israelis Washington’s severe displeasure with Israel in the affair.
FORMS OF AMERICAN ANGER
American anger is focussed on the appointment of Air Force Col. Aviem Sella to the command of one of Israel’s largest air bases only a few days before Pollard was sentenced. According to Pollard’s testimony, he was recruited by Sella and received his espionage assignments from him. Sella was indicted in absentia for espionage by a federal grand jury in Washington last week.
Another key figure in the affair, former Mossad operative Rafael Eitan, was recently rewarded with the chairmanship of Israel Chemicals, the largest government-owned corporation here. Eitan headed Pollard’s espionage unit, “Lekem,” now disbanded.
Eban told reporters Monday the subcommittee investigation would mark the first time a body of the Knesset acted similarly to a U.S. Senate committee probing matters of urgent public concern. He said the Premier’s assertion that the matter was “closed” made it all the more important for the Knesset to conduct its own inquiry.
The Pollard affair is of deep concern to Israelis and Jews overseas and can hardly be dismissed as hysteria, Eban said.
Meanwhile, three motions of non-confidence in the government will be introduced in the Knesset Tuesday by the opposition Citizens Rights Movement, Mapam and the Progressive List for Peace. But no serious defections are expected from coalition MKs, despite a strong sense of dissatisfaction among them.