One of the more preposterous bits of news coming out of Israel is that Israelis actually believe that the revelations about NSA spying on Israel show that both sides are spying on each other. So presumably because the NSA spies on Israel that means Israel has the right to spy on the U.S. Ergo, our continued incarceration of the spy, Jonathan Pollard is a bit of hypocrisy that should be rectified by freeing him. Haaretz calls this an “increasingly popular argument.” But there should be a caveat: an increasingly popular argument…among far-right Israelis who ardently support Israel’s national security state (including Pollard as a loyal devote of it).
A bit of context is in order: first, Pollard was a paid spy who caused more damage than any U.S. spy before him. He not only betrayed the most advanced U.S. weapons systems to Israel, it turned around and exchanged that information with the Soviet Union in order to free Soviet Jewish dissidents. Pollard poisoned the well not just for U.S.-Israeli relations, but he also harmed our military posture vis a vis the Soviet Union, then our most potent adversary.
While paying an American Jew to betray this country is one of the more egregious capers Israel has pulled, let’s all the way back to the creation of the State of Israel to find the first instance of Israeli spying on U.S. The Mossad sent a former senior Haganah-IDF commander, Meir Novik (Hebrew), on an assignment to spy on this country in 1949. Here is Yossi Melman’s short history of Israeli spying here which, unfortunately, stops at 1993 and omits numerous more recent examples:
Israel has also stuck its hand in the cookie jar. Since the founding of the state, Israeli intelligence agencies have routinely spied on the United States. Meir Novik, a former Shin Bet operative (who later went to become police commissioner) was sent to the US in 1949 to carry out spying missions.
Two years later, Elyashiv Ben Horin, an Israeli intelligence agent operating under the guise of a diplomat, was declared “persona non grata” and expelled from the US after he was apprehended by FBI agents while trying to recruit Jordan’s military attaché. Chaim Herzog, who was Israel’s military attaché in Washington, was also asked to return to Israel after he was found to be involved in illicit efforts to procure technology and weapons systems.
For three decades, Israel has routinely and systematically carried out all kinds of espionage activities on US soil. In 1968, agents from LAKAM – a Mossad outfit headed by Binyamin Bloomberg and Rafi Eitan – illegally obtained uranium from a nuclear factory owned by a Jewish American businessman, Zalman Shapiro. This uranium was used for the Dimona nuclear facility.
Arnon Milchan, the high-profile Hollywood film producer and businessman, was sent to procure vital equipment for Israel’s nuclear program. In the 1980s, American customs authorities exposed a number of plots cooked up by Israeli military officers, who came to the US to receive additional training, and who stole information regarding advanced military technologies which Israel sought.
In 1993, Howard Schack, the man who built US military bases in Saudi Arabia, Libya, and Iraq, released a book in which he revealed that he spied for the Mossad, providing it with information about those same bases.
Returning to NSA spying on Israel, what precisely did it do? It used sophisticated technology to penetrate Israeli telecommunications systems. It did that from U.S. soil without buying the loyalty of any Israeli agent. No Israeli citizen stole any documents from top-secret security facilities. The U.S. has not bartered any of that information by selling or trading it to Iran or any other Israeli enemy.
Now, if Israel is prepared to renounce all future spying efforts inside the U.S. and sign a treaty promising to do so, I’d be willing to demand the NSA stop spying on Israeli targets. Until that happens, all of this blather about freeing Pollard is empty posturing. Posturing that is terribly characteristic of the sorts of ideological extremists advancing these claims.
Not to mention (as Alon Levy tweeted), if Israel wanted to be consistent and placed any value in the exposure of NSA spying on its leaders, it would offer Snowden asylum, as Russia has. If it doesn’t do that, for whatever reason, it has no standing to use any information Snowden revealed to seek Pollard’s release.
I was sorry to see an interview Greenwald gave to Israeli TV in which he was asked about the Pollard-Snowden connection. He unfortunately, didn’t fully understand the sub-text of the question in terms of internal Israeli politics, because he’s much more focused on the excesses of U.S. spying than on the excesses of Israeli spying. Instead of saying it’s hypocritical for the U.S. to jail Pollard while we spy on Israel, he should’ve pointed out that Israel is the third most active country in terms of espionage efforts within the U.S. This is not a question of the U.S. being the sole culprit. If anything, Israel tries to outdo us to the extent it can.
Further, Greenwald didn’t take advantage of his opportunity to raise the case of Anat Kamm, who remains in prison for doing much less than Snowden did. Instead of taking millions of documents as he did, she took 2000 or so. She gave them to a journalist just like Snowden gave his to Greenwald. Her documents confirmed that the IDF senior command violated orders of the Supreme Court and engaged in targeted killings of unarmed Palestinian militants. Greenwald’s argument that Snowden did this country a service by exposing illegal government acts holds equally true for Anat Kamm.
Her imprisonment and Uri Blau’s four month sentence are an indelible blot on Israel’s so-called claim of press freedom and democratic values. When you have the bully pulpit Greenwald has, that’s a subject worth raising.