When asked on national television of the United States was spying on its allies, Alexander Haig, former commander of NATO and Secretary of State, replied, “I hope so.” He understood how vital it is for America to not only know what its adversaries are up to, but its friends as well. If America, with the most powerful military and economic base in the world, considers it vital to spy on its enemies and friends, how much more so for Israel?
Israel must contend with collusion of intelligence operations among the surrounding Arab countries, all of whom except Egypt, maintain a state of war against it. Add to this the interchange of sophisticated information between the Soviet Union and its client states, and the sale of major weapons systems to Israel’s enemies by France, England, Italy, Sweden, Spain, East and West Germany , and the Soviet bloc nations. Even the U.S., Israel’s strongest supporter, has cordial, active defense relationships with some of Israel’s most dangerous enemies and sells them the most sophisticated weapons systems to maintain the “balance of power in the Middle East” to quote Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger.
The U.S., like all other countries, operates a vast network of agents and electronic devices in full service, surveying every other nation in the world. It employs nationals of these countries to feed information into an elaborate grid of intelligence. Often information comes into their hands that may be vital to the stability of an ally. This information is usually shared, with an understanding of a quid pro quo.
Israel is vulnerable in the extreme; any attack, whether economic or military, can be gravely damaging. The need for advance knowledge of what its enemies plan cannot be underestimated. The first information offered to Israel by Jonathan Jay Pollard apparently indicated that data of vital importance to the well-being of Israel was being withheld. The nature of this information was so critical that Israeli intelligence chose to risk a breach with the United States in order to obtain it. Although there was an agreement to exchange such information, certain officials in the U.S. government, for reasons yet to be made public, chose to deny Israel access. No American or Israeli inquiry has yet been convened to discover why this information was blocked.
Clearly, the first Pollard flow of information to Israel was shocking and established the fact that other information had been and was being withheld by certain American officials. Israeli intelligence maintained its link to Pollard in anticipation of other discoveries by America’s intelligence network that would affect Israel.
Officials like Rafael Eitan and Col. Aviem Sella should think twice about the issue; the threat of biological warfare is real and cannot be ignored. Pollard passed classified data on Syria’s purchase of gas manufacturing facilities from West Germany, as well as on Soviet-supplied long range missiles designed to deliver just such deadly materiel to Israel’s population centers. When U.S. spy satellites pass over Syria or Egypt and see military preparations that could mean war against Israel, but an official in the U.S. chooses not to share this information, for whatever reasons, is this not a betrayal of a friend and ally?
Israeli survival has often meant taking matters into Israeli hands. Israel violated the U.S. and Canadian arms embargo imposed in 1948. Many Canadian and American Jewish and Christian supporters of the birth of the Jewish state were tried and jailed for their courageous defiance at the time. In 1969, Israelis commandeered French gunboats at Cherbourg paid for by Israel but embargoed by President Charles DeGaulle. A Christian Swiss engineer was arrested in 1967 for passing on the secrets of the Mirage jet fighter, after DeGaulle, Israel’s main arms supplier, imposed an arms embargo.
To date, it is known that Pollard passed in information about Syrian and Iraqi gas, chemical, and biological warfare; Soviet arms shipments to Arab countries; Pakistan’s efforts to build an atom bomb; U.S. intelligence assessments of PLO-planned activities and of a new Soviet-made fighter; Soviet Fleet movements in the Mediterranean; and Libyan air defenses, the knowledge of which enabled Israel to bomb PLO headquarters in Tunisia.
Since the Pollard arrest, there seems to have been a concerted effort by the American news media to portray Israel in a negative light. Reagan’s staff and the media seem to have done everything possible to shift the blame for the Iran/Contra arms affair to Israel but, fortunately, too many facts have emerged to make the story credible. Reagan’s admission of wrongdoing was timed to coincide exactly with Pollard’s sentencing to divert the effects of Reagan’s tacit admission of guilt — a telling manipulation of the media’s excessive fascination with anything harmful to Israel. It therefore seems absurd to follow the demands of some Israeli and American Jews who insist Israel should search her soul in public.
The Pollard case has not affected the closeness of the American-Israeli defense relationship. As David Shipler wrote in The New York Times of March 16, 1987, intelligence sharing and cooperation between the two countries continue on all levels of operation. In April, Senator Robert Dole indicated his support for an increased role for Israel in NATO.
Still, it is a sad comment on the times that two democracies with similar values and many of the same enemies find themselves in such an awkward position because of the excessive outrage of some highly placed individuals.
The other side of the story is yet to be written, possibly by a special Congressional committee, to determine who caused this blockage of information to Israel. Perhaps such a report will reveal that some U.S. officials were operating covertly in the interests of some adversaries of Israel. Since the orders from the highest echelons of the White House were to share all vital defense intelligence with Israel, on whose behalf were these lower officials acting?
It is well known that pro-Arab interests are well represented by many in Washington’s high positions, some of whom have left public service for lucrative working relationships with Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Iran, Libya, etc. Some prominent examples are former vice president Spiro Agnew; Senator William Fulbright; former senator Charles Percy, now a consultant in Washington; Tower Commission member and former senator Edmund Muskie, who represents prominent Arab interests in Washington and sits on the board of the Association of Arab Americans; Michael Deaver, former Reagan aide, who had a two-year, $500,000 contract with Saudi Arabia and who has been indicted for lying to Congress about using his government position to wield influence.
Where, in this network of competing interest, does the matter of withholding vital intelligence from a strategic ally fit? What is the role of the Justice Department? What is the role of the U.S. Customs Department, whose agents showed up with T.V. cameramen at a raid to recover equipment purported to be illegally held by Israelis? (Later it was determined Israel had licenses to import this equipment.) Where does the FBI fit in, when it picks up Jonathan Pollard and provides a news release within hours of his arrest?
Senator David Durenberger (R-Minn.) stated publicly that when he was head of the Senate Intelligence Committee, he discussed with the late CIA director, William Casey, the matter of the CIA breaking an agreement with Israel not to engage in any intelligence gathering in each other’s countries. It was reported that the CIA had recruited an Israeli intelligence officer to provide information during the war in Lebanon, which covered a period of two years. Durenberger said Casey had conferred with the FBI (presumably with William Webster, then head of the FBI and now head of the CIA) about easing up on the Pollard matter in view of the CIA’s earlier breach. But rather than handle it in a quiet, diplomatic fashion, as had been the custom when American or other allies had been caught in each other’s pockets, the FBI refused and pursued the Pollard matter in the most vigorous and public manner possible.
Clearly there is a need for a commission to investigate the activities of U.S. citizens who may be in the direct employ or are about to be employed by Middle East nations, their connections and motivations, and to analyze the influence these people have after they leave their official employment with the U.S. government.
Does the spate of Israel-bashing indicate that Israeli and American Jews will be expected to accede to Arab demands that directly affect Israel’s well-being?
State-of-the-art weapons and ammunition worth $600 million are being offered for sale to Saudi Arabia; the Administration plans sales of other ammunition to Egypt and Jordan. Senator Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) has warned that this ammunition has not been sold previously to any foreign country and could “jeopardize the deterrent abilities of our ally Israel…”
All nations have a legitimate right to protect themselves from harm or extinction, even though they take the risk of offending allies. This philosophy has governed the actions of all countries from time immemorial. Israel should not be made the exception.
Emanuel A. Winston is an international trustee of Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies at Tel Aviv University.