Babylon & Beyond

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ISRAEL: What is behind spy arrest?

April 27, 2008 | 12:16 pm

The arrest of 84-year-old Ben-ami Kadish on charges of spying for Israel continues to fuel speculation and analysis here and in the U.S. A Jerusalem Post survey showed that 71% of more than 3,000 respondents believed that the Kadish case would harm U.S.-Israeli relations.

Much of the speculation centers on the curious timing of the arrest — not only more than 20 years after Kadish's alleged crimes took place but one month before President Bush will travel here to help celebrate the 60th anniversary of the state of Israel's founding.

One interpretation was that the Bush administration was using the case to pressure Israel into greater concessions in its talks with the Palestinians. Another claimed that the U.S. Justice Department remained obsessed with proving that convicted Israeli spy Jonathan Pollard was just part of a larger ongoing network.

"The Justice Department is targeting Israel," said former Mossad official Yossi Alpher. "They have been looking for additional Americans spying for Israel for a long, long time."

The American Conservative magazine's blog, citing Israeli sources, alleged that the case was initiated by a leak from Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's government — with doves inside the government seeking to sabotage a looming Bush-Olmert push for military confrontation with Syria.

A fascinating article in the Congressional Quarterly puts forth another possibility. Kadish wasn't fully retired from spying. The article said Kadish remained in contact with his former Mossad handler, a man identified here as Yossi Yagur, who also handled Pollard and fled the U.S. after Pollard's arrest.

Kadish even apparently visited Yagur in Israel in 2004, a meeting that only makes sense if Kadish was still Yagur's agent, author Jeff Stein writes.

"One role Kadish could play was as a 'spotter' who could size up possible recruits for Israeli intelligence even while living in retirement," the article says.

One thing seems clear: The Kadish case has damaged the chances of a presidential pardon for Pollard, who is serving a life sentence and whose supporters had been campaigning for a pardon before the end of Bush's final term.

Pollard, according to his wife, says he never knew Kadish.

— Ashraf Khalil in Jerusalem