Babylon & Beyond

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ISRAEL: A little spying between friends

April 24, 2008 |  8:03 am


This was already going to be a year where we heard a lot about convicted Israeli spy Jonathan Jay Pollard. As the Bush administration winds down, speculation has been steadily building about a potential end-of-term pardon for the former Navy analyst serving a life sentence for espionage.

President Clinton, at the end of his presidency,  considered a pardon for Pollard -- who was granted Israeli citizenship in prison. But Clinton was reportedly talked out of it by the intelligence community, which was still livid about the scope of the damage done.

Now a new Israeli spy scandal has brought up Pollard's name again. Accused spy Ben-ami Kadish, an 84-year-old retired Army engineer, reportedly had the same handler as Pollard, an allegation which revives longstanding speculation that Pollard was just part of extensive and ongoing Israeli network in America.

"This was a much larger espionage operation with sleeper cells in the United States than we understood or could have known at the time," said
Joseph E. DiGenova, the former U.S. attorney who helped prosecute Pollard.

The implications of this latest scandal are still murky. Shmuel Rosner, Washington correspondent for the Israeli daily newspaper Haaretz, calls it "a public relations disaster," but also notes that both the accused and his crimes are very, very old. Still the potential, Rosner writes, is disturbing:

The FBI always suspected that Pollard was one of many, and has now been proven right. This will give legitimacy to future suspicions.

Critics of Israel and numerous intelligence professionals have long maintained that Pollard was the tip of the iceberg. For many out there, the infamous tale of the Israeli art student spy ring remains one of the criminally under-explored stories of recent years.

Meanwhile Israeli officials are laying low and hoping this blows over, according to the Jerusalem Post.  Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's office is referring all inquiries to the Foreign Ministry.

The Post's article quotes an unnamed  foreign ministry official as saying it was fortunate the Kadish arrest broke on the same day as the Pennsylvania Democratic primaries and adds:

The story was relegated to the Metro section of The New York Times, to Page 19 of The Washington Post and well down the blotter on the evening news programs, the official said with some satisfaction.

Other Israeli commentators felt that the U.S. executive branch would work to limit the public damage from the Kadish trial.

"The Bush Administration, which sympathizes with Israel, will certainly not make a big deal out of the new affair, and the next Administration will also likely prefer not to inflate its implications," columnist Ron Ben-Yishai said.

—Ashraf Khalil in Jerusalem

Photo: Ben-ami Kadish is escorted from federal court Tuesday in New York. Kadish, a former U.S. Army mechanical engineer, was arrested on charges he slipped classified documents about nuclear weapons to an employee of the Israeli consulate. Credit: Frank Franklin II/Associated Press

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