NOTE: WBEZ’s Worldview (Chicago) aired an interview with me this morning on the Jonathan Pollard news. You may hear it here:
The first 12 minutes is my interview. I was followed by Reaganite, Larry Korb, who flacked for the Free Pollard crowd. My thanks to Steve Bynum and Jerome McDonnell for the invitation. I also published a new piece yesterday for Middle East Eye on U.S.-Israel police and national security exchanges and their transformation of America into a near-clone of the Israeli national security state.
The Obama administration has confirmed that Jonathan Pollard will be released in November on completion of thirty years of his life sentence for espionage on behalf of Israel dating back to the early 1980s. Pollard was one of the most damaging spies in U.S. history. While working for U.S. Naval intelligence he stole thousands of documents and plans regarding Soviet military capabilities in the Arab world. He offered material documenting the defense status of Arab countries from Egypt to Syria. Though he claims he did this as an Israeli patriot, the most detailed account at the National Security Archive site portrays a deeply troubled fantasist who was motivated as much or more by money as by conviction. The Israelis showered as much as $100,000 or more on him, including an engagement ring for his then fiancé (he since divorced). The claim of pro-Israel altruism is belied by the fact that he also offered stolen information to other countries including Pakistan.
Pollard was “handled” by the Israeli scientific spy agency, LEKEM, under the direction of super-spy, Rafi Eitan. Eitan is the celebrated Israeli agent who captured Adolf Eichmann and brought him back to Israel for trial. He less successfully kidnapped Capt. Alexander “Avner” Israel, an Israeli double agent, in Europe. The drugs administered during the flight returning him from Europe to Israel actually killed him. When Eitan landed in Israel and found he had a dead body instead of a live spy, he ordered the plane back into the air and to dump the body in the Mediterranean. A bizarre but true story of one of the rarely known failures of Israeli intelligence.
Pollard was so blatant in his espionage activities that his colleagues reported his unusual behavior. As the FBI closed in to arrest him, Pollard made a mad dash for the Israeli embassy. However, his bosom buddy Eitan, when faced with a decision about whether to give Pollard sanctuary in the embassy said, absolutely not. He left Pollard to his fate.
For the past several decades, Israel has made up for its guilt by lobbying incessantly for Pollard’s release. The arguments offered were strange and pathetic: he spied for an ally. How could he do any damage to us in that case? He did it for love of Israel: how can you punish him for altruism? He was punished too much: it was an anti-Semitic conspiracy by Caspar Weinberger and George Schultz.
In response to these claims, Israel didn’t just sit on the materials Pollard gave it. When Soviet dissidents were suffering persecution by the authorities, Israel offered Pollard’s materials to them in exchange for freeing two prominent Soviet Jewish activists. Once secrets are spilled you don’t know where they will end up. In this case, they ended up in the hands of our Cold War chief rival.
In the aftermath of this scandal, Israel disbanded LEKEM and retired Eitan from service. Israel’s Mossad swore to the U.S. on a stack of Bibles: Never Again! That promise lasted as long as it took to recruit the next American spy. There have been many since. The most recent was Larry Franklin, who offered secret documents to another infamous Mossad handler, in this case, Uzi Arad. Franklin’s betrayal was facilitated by Aipac’s Steve Rosen. In this case as well the Israelis swore they didn’t spy on the U.S. and that, in any case, they would never do it again. Right.
U.S. intelligence officials who ranked the level of espionage activity in this country by foreign intelligence services say that Israel is the third most active after Russia and China.
Both the Israelis and Americans are claiming there is no relation between Pollard’s release and the Iran nuclear deal. But the media is awash in speculation that the Obama administration, in trying to soften the blow, is offering a carrot in the form of Pollard. It has done so before: during the Kerry-led peace negotiations the U.S. also offered Pollard’s freedom in return for a deal with the Palestinians. Bibi rejected the offer, which also included billions in new advanced military weaponry and technology. This time around these blandishments are again on the table. The visit this week by Defense Secretary Ash Carter to Israel surely included presentation of a shopping list by the Israelis and an American offer of over $1-billion in new military deals.
Bibi could reject Pollard’s freedom because he didn’t care about him as an individual. Pollard was the equivalent of what the GOP used to call a “wedge issue.” A wedge issue in Republican parlance is one that will rouse the troops, even though you know it has no hope of happening. Issues like school prayer, abortion, gay marriage. Pollard was red meat issue for the Israeli far-right, the Likud’s natural constituency. As long as Pollard remained captive, Bibi could continue to raise this card. He could also use it as a cudgel to beat up the Americans when he needed an issue to do so. Pollard free doesn’t help Bibi at all.
Lawyers for the Israeli-American say he has promises of work and housing in New York after he leaves prison. Let me guess: a cushy job as a security consultant for a pro-Israel think tank like JINSA, the Manhattan Institute, or WINEP! He can’t visit Israel for five years, until 2020. Upon his arrival there, the Israeli people will throw him a ticker tape parade (that’s more of an American thing, but you know what I mean). Probably offer him a villa in a settlement. He’ll be teaching a course on espionage to the Mossad’s future-spies enrolled at the Inter-Disciplinary Center in no time.
The most troubling aspect of the Pollard affair is Israel’s recruitment of American Jews to spy against their native land. This doesn’t trouble Israel in the least. The notion that Jews should have any other allegiance than to Israel is anathema to Israeli Zionists. But when an American Jew spies it raises the specter of dual loyalty. In this case, it supports the charge by anti-Semites that Jews have no loyalty to the land of their birth. That Jews are a Fifth Column waiting to betray America.
Pollard made it that much more difficult for the U.S. government and its agencies (especially military and intelligence) to trust Jews who sought to work there.
But Israeli intelligence doesn’t care. In intelligence matters, Israel doesn’t have allies; it has interests. If an American Jews can advance those interests, then so be it. There are no values, no taboos as far as recruitment or spying on an ally are concerned.