CBS News broadcast a bombshell on tonight’s Evening News (FBI Probes Pentagon Spy Case) with Dan Rather reporting that an official working with Douglas Feith, the number 3 Pentagon official under Don Rumsfeld, passed highly sensitive secret documents regarding U.S. policy toward Iran to staff of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, who in turned passed the documents to Israeli intelligence (see Pentagon Official Is Suspected of Giving Israel Secrets from today’s New York Times). If true, this would be a devestating development for all parties, agencies and governments concerned. The case raises all sorts of questions and alarm bells regarding U.S.-Israeli relations and U.S. relations with the Arab world.
The DOD is attempting to minimize the damage by saying the alleged spy was not in a policy-making position, so no need to worry:
“The investigation involves a single individual at D.O.D. at the desk officer level, who was not in a position to have significant influence over U.S. policy,” the statement continued. “Nor could a foreign power be in a position to influence U.S. policy through this individual.
But this begs the question–you don’t need to be in a “policy-making position” to cause enormous damage to U.S. interests.
Israel issued a flat out denial:
A spokesman for the Israeli Embassy, David Siegel, denied the accusations of espionage. “They are completely false and outrageous,” he said.
“The United States is Israel’s most cherished friend and ally,” Mr. Siegel said. “We have a strong ongoing relationship at all levels, and in no way would Israel do anything to impair this relationship.”
False and outrageous? Knowing the closeness of American-Israeli relations and the strength of AIPAC within the political establishment, do the Israelis really think that the Justice Department would have gone public with this without an ironclad case? Come on!
First, how could Don Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz and Feith allow an Israeli agent to infiltrate the deepest recesses of the Pentagon? They’ve been investigating the case for a year. Just think how much longer it could’ve gone on before they detected it and what other secrets this individual might have revealed before he was suspected? Even without this potentially devestating scandal, Arabs and many others believed that these individuals toed a totally pro-Israel line in their policy considerations. What will they think now?
Next, what could the Israelis be thinking? Didn’t they receive enough of a black eye for running Jonathan Pollard within Navy Intelligence? The Times article even implies that there have been subsequent cases of Israeli spying within U.S. government agencies which have either not been pursued or prosecuted because of the sensitivity of the American-Israeli relationship:
Several officials said that a number of espionage investigations involving Israel had been dropped or suppressed in the past in the face of political pressure.
As an American Jew who wishes to see Israel living within a peaceful Mideast, I am deeply troubled and disgusted with Israel’s actions in this case.
On the one hand, you can argue that this is what nations do. They’ve been doing it since God knows when and they’ll continue doing it until the end of time or at least of nations. According to this perspective, Israel is doing what is right for its national interests. After all, Iran’s nuclear weapons program is of increasing concern to Israel and if it were to feel it needed to take military action against Iran, then it would certainly need all the intelligence it could get both about Iranian weapons programs and U.S. policy toward them.
But on the other hand, the amount of damage that a case like this can do not only the U.S.-Israeli relations, but to U.S. standing in the Arab world is catastrophic. As I said above, we’re already at the nadir in the eyes of Muslims. How much lower can we go? I guess we’ll find out as this case works itself out.
U.S. Midest policy is seen not only among Arabs, but among many others throughout the world as either in Israel’s pocket or totally ineffectual. Now, everyone who feels this way will say that U.S. policy has been rendered so ineffectual by the work of an Israeli spy (or spies) within the U.S. government’s highest echelons. Who can blame them for feeling this way?
Finally, what does this scandal do to the standing of AIPAC both on the Hill and within the American Jewish community? AIPAC is a Goliath when it comes to influencing U.S. policy toward Israel. It has the almost universal support of the American Jewish community and most U.S. political leaders march in lock step with its policies. Personally, I believe that AIPAC has an absolutely toxic affect on U.S.-Israel relations because it suffocates discussion of a wide range of issues in a dispassionate and open-handed way. In AIPAC’s world, there is only one way of thinking about Israel and that is their way. If you break out of lockstep you will pay a price.
I have written here critically about AIPAC:
AIPAC: We Support the Road Map. Or Do We?
AIPAC & the Road Map: Undermining Bush Policy
What did I get for my troubles? An unsolicited copy of one of their press releases which “proved” that they did indeed support the Road Map. They sent the press release to my home and did not enclose any note that would indicate who sent it. I thought it was incredibly smarmy for an organization to send an unsolicited document to someone’s private home. But that’s what AIPAC does. Anything is justified in pursuit of what they view as Israel’s interests.
I wonder whether AIPAC will pay a price for the behavior of the two employees who allegedly passed on the information to Israel. Will members of Congress continue to pay obeisance to AIPAC? Will George Bush continue to run all of his major Mideast initiatives (such as they are) past AIPAC? Will AIPAC itself do a “cheshbon nefesh” (internal accounting) and reconsider the role that it and its employees played? My answers to all these questions are profoundly doubtful. I’m afraid that after a few months everything will return to normal, just as after the Pollard affair. American Jews will even begin organizing to demand the release of the Pentagon spy by saying he/she was a ‘Jewish patriot.’ Nothing will have changed.
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