Document: The Eban Report
[Click here for Hebrew version in PDF format.]
Knesset Defense and Foreign Affairs Committee
THE EBAN REPORT ON THE
ISSUE OF JONATHAN POLLARD
[English Translation of Unclassified Version]
27 Iyar, 5747
May 26, 1987
- Knesset Article 13. (a) 4. authorizes the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee to hold hearings on "the State's foreign policy, armed forces and security." In 1982, at the initiative of then Chairman of the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee (Moshe Arens) several sub-committees were established with restricted membership to discuss sensitive issues within the realm of the Committee's responsibilities in greater depth and detail.
The subcommittee holds extensive and fundamental deliberations with the intelligence services. The principle of parliamentary supervision of the functioning of the intelligence services is discharged in Israel thanks to the work of this subcommittee. The subcommittee does not discuss operations, but does study key situations and problems, provides counsel in the diplomatic sphere and authorizes, in the name of the Knesset, the supply of resources required for the functioning of the systems.
- From the start, when he appeared before the Committee, the Prime Minister thought there is no place for an investigation of the Jonathan Pollard affair.
The Chairman of the Committee, MK Abba Eban, announced that concerns for good government as well as considerations of foreign policy require the subcommittee to clarify the subject in all its aspects. The same day, the Chairman of the Knesset, MK Shlomo Hillel, announced that he supported the exercise of the Knesset's responsibility in this area as in all other areas of the government's functioning.
- On March 11, 1987, the Cabinet announced its decision to establish a committee of inquiry to examine the Pollard affair and to assist the subcommittee of the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee in its work. This decision evoked positive reactions in Israel and throughout the world. When the announcement regarding the opening of the inquiry in the Knesset's subcommittee was made public, there was a considerable calming in the positions of government and media in the United States toward Israel. However, the main thrust in our activities was determined by the national obligation to uphold the Knesset Articles and to contribute to the improvement in the functioning of the systems in our care and, in general, to diagnose and examine failures, so that they would not be repeated.
- The work of the subcommittee opened with a detailed report by Defense Minister Yitzhak Rabin on March 12, 1987. We note with satisfaction that the Government's promise to assist the subcommittee was taken seriously and realized to the full extent. All [relevant] ministers, officers and civil servants, past and present, appeared before us - some at their own initiative. Any documents we requested were submitted to us, including protocols of Government and Cabinet meetings.
- The subcommittee has permanent responsibilities that go beyond the Pollard affair. Therefore, it took advantage of the appearances of ministers and other interviewees to deepen its inquiry into the intelligence community. No country publicizes its intelligence systems and methods. Accordingly, most of the material the subcommittee amassed in this inquiry will be made available solely for the ministers and security persons whose responsibilities are related to the subject at hand.. This report is but the smallest part of the extensive material that we have collected. It relates to issues that both the Knesset and the public have a particular interest in and which may be publicized only within the limitations of national security. The full secret report will be submitted for review to the relevant parties.
- The subcommittee does not have the status of a legal institution and regardless does not use the procedures and processes customary in legal investigations. Hence, the subcommittee does not intend to adjudicate regarding conclusions as to whether or not individuals should continue to hold on to their positions, which may ensue from its findings and assessments. This position is acceptable to all members of the subcommittee and this report is drafted accordingly. However, the subcommittee believes it has the right to express assessments and impressions and to summarize findings and conclusions, as customary in proper parliamentary proceedings.
- It is the way of the world that a failure exposed in an intelligence system echoes with the most resonant reverberations while intelligence successes remain enveloped in a haze. This report examines a very grave fault. Criticizing a certain operation, saying that it would have been better if it had not been conceived, does not mean that achievements of the intelligence services, which constitute a vital component of Israel's essential security system, are being ignored. The resourcefulness, daring, and many times, the heroism and sacrifice of intelligence agents are known and laid open to us. These services may indeed be proud of their achievements and the outcome of their efforts and the State of Israel owes them respect and appreciation.
Subject of the Report
- This report relates to the considerations, activities and decision-making procedures of members of the government, civil servants and officers that were involved in some manner or other in situations created due to the employment of Jonathan Pollard.
The first period covered by this report commences at the end of May, 1984 when Pollard first succeeded with his initiative to make contact with an officer in the Israeli Air Force - Colonel Aviem Sela. From then on, Israelis continued to maintain contact with Pollard in the United States, Israel and France until his arrest by US authorities on November 19, 1985. Throughout this period, Pollard was activated by Rafael Eitan and his assistants at the Office of Scientific Relations (LaKaM)
- Pollard's arrest, trial and conviction dispatched this topic to the public domain and required the involvement of the Government and cabinet. The Israeli people were surprised and distressed to learn details about the spy operation carried out by Israelis, civil servants, which led to a crisis in Israel-US relations. This is where the question of the Government's responsibility to the Knesset and the public arises. Moreover, Israel - US relations suffered uneasy tensions that extended to wide circles among the pro-Israel US public. The Government was required to rectify an important part of the mesh of Israel's international relations.
What Did the Political Echelon Know?
- When the item concerning Pollard's arrest was publicized, Prime Minister Shimon Peres declared that the operation was carried out without the knowledge and permission of the political echelon. This information was passed on to US Secretary of State, George Schultz, on an official and binding level, in a telephone conversation between Schultz and Peres on the night between November 30 and December 1, 1985. A similar notice was also submitted to the media.
- The question as to whether the political echelon knew about Pollard's activation is such a material point from the aspect of national credibility and the international implications that we saw fit to go to great lengths to fully clarify it. We did not hesitate to investigate all those who were able to shed light on the possibility of knowledge of the political echelon, if there was such a possibility. We were aware that some of those who appeared before the subcommittee would by virtue of the nature of the situation emerge blameless personally, if it were possible to attribute direct responsibility on the direct knowledge of one or more members of the Government.
- The inquiry we carried out on this issue produced the following conclusion that was accepted by the Committee: the body of evidence submitted to the Committee by all witnesses related to the subject indeed authorizes beyond any doubt the conclusion that the operative echelons (i.e. the LaKaM headed by Rafi Eitan) decided to enlist Pollard and activate him without investigating, consulting or obtaining permission, whether directly or indirectly, from the political echelon.
- The Committee heard a claim that in intelligence operations of a certain kind, it is best not to report to the political echelon in charge on specific details of operations, classification of sources and description of origins and it is preferable for the operatives not to request in advance authorizations
from the political echelon in charge to recruit sensitive sources and/or to request authorization from him, which otherwise would deny this echelon the ability to carry out the duty of effective supervision and the possibility of preventing the execution of certain operations.
Rogue Operation Or State Responsibility?
- Upon Pollard's exposure, the Government of Israel announced that this operation had been carried out without the authorization and knowledge of the political echelon. Later, the operation was described as a "rogue operation" performed privately by unauthorized persons. In English, this term - "rogue operation" - was current.
The announcement concerning the lack of awareness and authorization on the part of the political echelon was accurate while the definition of the operation as "rogue" was without basis in fact.
- An undeniable fact was that the decision to activate Pollard in the manner he was activated, as well as all stages of the operation, which occurred over the space of a year and a half, was done by civil servants who received their appointments and authority from the government and more precisely from the State of Israel's security system. All activities of the persons involved in the operations and the funds transmitted to Pollard himself came from state resources, withdrawn without authorization and knowledge of the political echelon.
The political echelon's lack of knowledge and failure to provide authorization does not invalidate the responsibility of the Government of Israel for the situation that was created.
The conclusion that the political echelon did not know was true, but does not resolve the question of national and ministerial responsibility that ensues from the involvement of staff personnel who report to the political echelon. The principle of "noblesse oblige" is not satisfied, if it is at all determined that in every situation of omission or error, only civil servants shall remain within the range of censure and those with political echelon responsibility shall abandon them in the field.
- In the matter under discussion, the Government has already acknowledged its responsibility tacitly: (a) by its commitment to rectify the situation; (b) by its commitment to disband the unit that had exceeded its authority; (c) by the promise to call those responsible to order and (d) by the Defense Minister's notice of apology in the name of the Government.
Despite the lack of any knowledge and/or ministerial authorization for the operation, the Government would do well if it would say unequivocally that the State of Israel admits responsibility and will continue to rectify the damage since several of its employees were involved in this action.
- Rafi Eitan bears direct and full responsibility for the decision to recruit Pollard and activate him. He did not report this to his superiors and in any case, did not obtain any authorization for this. He should have understood that such an act was likely to endanger significant interests of Israel and harm the friendly relations between Israel and the US.
- Rafi Eitan served the State with complete loyalty and boundless devotion for many years, and to his merit, attained achievements in a variety of positions that contributed to the security of the State.
- An opinion was voiced in the Committee that Rafi Eitan's appointment itself as head of the LaKaM was a mistake which settles the minister in charge, Ariel Sharon, with weighty responsibility. Eitan held two positions. He was both head of the LaKaM reporting to the Ministry of Defense and Adviser on Terrorism reporting to the Prime Minister.
According to this opinion, such an arrangement was almost an invitation to inefficiency and to the risk that the person in charge of these functions would easily be able to evade supervision since his subordination was split between two authorities.
With all due respect to the gravity of this consideration, most members of the Committee saw the error of the appointment as knowledge after the fact. The majority opinion held that under the circumstances at that time and according to the situation that was prevalent at the time of his appointment, Eitan's appointment was considered natural in accordance with his qualifications.
- On the subject of Pollard, Eitan did not act wisely and even demonstrated a lack of discretion, causing many difficulties for the State of Israel as well as damage to US - Israel relations and Israel's relations with the Jews of America.
Rafi Eitan was punished by his removal from office as head of the LaKaM and by being restricted from engaging further in intelligence matters.
Reservations of MK David Magen:
- The Committee's public report which relates to the part played by and degree of responsibility of the head of the LaKaM, Mr. Rafael Eitan, does him an injustice, as well as the employees of the unit he headed and the entire matter.
By the nature of things, the Committee was prevented from specifying in this report, because of its public nature, many items which would have testified to the kind of unit Eitan was in charge of and the clear conclusion that ensued from this information, that Pollard's recruitment and activation were performed with authority. And indeed, the Committee members agreed that Rafi Eitan did not exceed his authority.
This was the reason that upon Pollard's exposure, the Prime Minister, Mr. Shimon Peres, made an announcement using the following language: "... We do not want an investigation, because it would disclose things that we know." And the Defense Minister, Yitzhak Rabin, was quick to respond with an announcement to the Cabinet on November 28, 1985 as follows: "There has been no and there will be no severing of heads here."
- Rafi Eitan made a great and unique contribution during his forty years of work in the service of the State. His brilliant achievements in his work within the various security divisions have not been publicized and may not be publicized. However, it is a fact that the personal appreciation of his huge contribution to the State of Israel is the legacy of all members of the Committee without exception.
When Mr. Shimon Peres became Prime Minister toward the end of 1984, he took care, out of unclear and unexplained motives, to distance Eitan from the Office of the Prime Minister and to appoint someone else in his place. Despite this injustice, Rafi Eitan did not leave the civil service and continued to invest the best of his energies and talents in his position, which became restricted to activities solely within the Ministry of Defense. During the period that Mr. Eitan stood at the head of the Office, it reached a peak in its achievements. Someone from the security services who appeared before the Committee said it best when he said: "Until Rafi arrived, we just talked about LaKaM; after Rafi arrived, we called LaKaM - Rafi." Rafi Eitan's material was characterized more than once at the highest echelons as "material more valuable than gold."
- In the initial stages of Pollard's recruitment, Rafi Eitan understood its particular sensitivity and was careful to define in a detailed document the risks involved in activating Pollard. He instructed, in that same document, regarding rules of action and special precautions. After the fact, it turned out that Rafi Eitan's instructions were not followed and in his statement to the Committee, he declared: "I am prepared to take responsibility upon myself." There was no consensus in the Committee that the responsibility was indeed his. Mr. Rafi Eitan's attempt, in his appearance before the Committee, to clear his superiors as well as those who worked under him and others who were involved in this affair of all mistakes is worthy of respect; however, it cannot lead the Committee to the conclusion that the errors of the operation are all Rafi Eitan's and that he must bear full responsibility.
- The claim that Rafi Eitan overstepped boundaries in his reliance on an IDF officer in an intelligence operation that was not connected to the army is not accurate. It was proved to the Committee that Colonel Aviem Sela assisted the LaKaM only after Rafi Eitan applied to an Air Force supervisor who provided written authorization for Colonel Sela to cooperate with the LaKaM.
- The critical period prior to the fall of Pollard was the summer and autumn of 1985. At the beginning of June 1985, Mr. Eitan was rushed to hospital with an eye injury. On October 3, 1985, his sight was restored and he returned to work on a part-time basis. I assume that under normal circumstances, he would have managed to ensure that his instructions to terminate the relationship with Pollard had been followed. However, he failed to accomplish this due to his illness. This is the place to mention that Rafi Eitan's return to work in October took place while his eyesight still suffered and he was still physically incapacitated.
- Immediately upon the failure of the operation, Mr. Rafi Eitan took care to notify the Prime Minister that he took full responsibility. This personal sacrifice proceeded from his view of the matter as involving criminal law and the hope that the incident would not develop into a complex and difficult affair. Since this aspiration was not fulfilled and errors committed by the political echelon did turn the "slip" into an "affair," there was no room to respond to Eitan's appeal nor to agree with him. Likewise, there was no room and there still is no room for the formulation that appeared in the report that there were Americans who wavered concerning the severity of punishment received by Rafi Eitan.
Upon Pollard's exposure, Rafi Eitan's world was destroyed. He was immediately deposed from office (by demand of the Americans), and his brilliant career in security was cruelly and resolutely cut short. It was inconceivable that there could be room for strong considerations not to hasten to appoint him to a senior economic position. Even the greatest sinner is not punished twice for the same transgression. Despite Eitan's great success as adviser to the Prime Minister on terror, Mr. Shimon Peres took care to dismiss him from this office immediately upon his becoming Prime Minister. And as if this was not sufficient, despite the binding notice of the Defense Minister, when Pollard was exposed, that "there was no and would be no removal of heads," Prime Minister Shimon Peres was quick to penalize Rafi Eitan and only Eitan, by removing him from his position as head of the LaKaM. The question arises then what was the source of vehemence on the part of certain entities to see Rafi Eitan's head "fall" for the third time?
- Colonel Aviem Sela did not act out of considerations that we would have expected to discern in an experienced senior Air Force officer like himself. Even though Sela believed what he believed, that he was rendering the State a faithful service, plain logic should have convinced him not to take part in an undertaking at which he was not expert.
- At the time of his appearances before us, Colonel Aviem Sela's testimony was not clear, consistent nor accurate.
- Nonetheless, we are obliged to mention that Colonel Aviem Sela, who was a distinguished pilot and excellent commander was personally and severely disciplined. His attainment of a doctorate from New York University remains inconclusive due to his inability to return to the US. He did not receive the promotion that he was meant to receive in the Air Force. He was obliged to resign from supervision of the Tel Nof base and a large question mark was placed concerning his future in the Air Force.
The Authorizations for Sela's Involvement
The commander of the Air Force and the former chief of staff used faulty judgment in this affair. They responded to a request to use the assistance of Colonel Aviem Sela, without having initiated a comprehensive examination of their own to ensure that a senior officer would not be sent on a mission whose scope exceeded his duties.
Officers in the regular army are not to be activated in an intelligence framework outside the army, without obtaining prior authorization from the Defense Minister. It is unfortunate that the former chief of staff, Major General Moshe Levy, did not do so in this affair.
We note here with satisfaction the notice of the Defense Minister regarding the issue of assistance by army officers.
The Operative and Supervisory Echelons
Although ministerial responsibility for supervision and control lies with the ministers and this responsibility is not transferable, it is natural that the supervisory task should be placed in the hands of staff personnel. And indeed, the Ministry of Defense set up a committee to supervise the activities of the LaKaM. We discovered beyond any shadow of a doubt that this supervision did not in fact exist. Those responsible for follow-up did not direct the LaKaM and those below with questions and warnings, and did not take care to report to their superiors in the political echelon.
Concerning everything that relates to the period in which the Pollard operation occurred, the main person in charge of supervision was the director general of the Ministry of Defense, Menachem Meron. The director general did not apply any control outside of the administrative sphere.
This could not have been the intention of the ministers who established a follow-up committee and placed the director general at its head.
At his appearance before the subcommittee, Mr. Meron tried to diminish the significance of his responsibilities and at times did not even remember or preferred not to remember his involvement in matters related to the LaKaM.
Defense Minister Arens
Moshe Arens was the Minister of Defense when Pollard commenced to transfer information. Defense Minister Arens admitted and claimed that he did not place any supervision on Eitan as he was occupied with the war in Lebanon, that Eitan's involvement in intelligence came to him as a surprise, that his many meetings with Eitan were dedicated to the subject of Shi'ite terror, that he was not briefed on the LaKaM when he entered into office as Defense Minister, and that the time of overlap between his term of office as defense minister and the Pollard operation was extremely short.
Rafi Eitan has a different version. According to him, particularly in the month of August, a short time before the office was passed on to Yitzhak Rabin, Arens received reports from him which should have brought him to a greater level of vigilance.
We believe that an admission is evident here that Mr. Arens did not fulfill orders regarding ministerial responsibility and that he should be held responsible in respect of this fact.
Defense Minister Yitzhak Rabin
Yitzhak Rabin received the position of defense minister in September 1984.
He served in this position for 14 months during which time the Pollard operation continued. This means that he had quite a lengthy opportunity to consider phenomena that should have caused him concern. Because during the same period, some particularly sensitive intelligence material arrived at an increased rate. If Rabin had been maintaining proper supervision of the activities of the LaKaM, he would have had to consider the grave significance of this material.
Nonetheless, Rabin demonstrated no effort to maintain follow-up procedures and to tighten supervision as he was obliged to have done. During his term of office, the Pollard operation becomes a lengthy enterprise without Rabin being aware of the fact that the source is Pollard.
These data undoubtedly demonstrate that Rabin's unequivocal personal duty was to administer proper supervisory means that would have enabled him to know that Pollard had been activated, and to take the necessary steps concerning this operation.
The burden of ministerial responsibility that applies to him remains beyond any shadow of a doubt.
Reservations Concerning the Sections Relating to the Functioning and Responsibility of Moshe Arens and Yitzhak Rabin as Defense Ministers During the Period of the Pollard Operation - Presented by MK Micha Harish
In place of the version authorized by the Committee, I request to record the following:
- Moshe Arens was defense minister when Pollard began to transfer significant information, receive briefings and funds and make his way on the path that led to the failure that is the subject of this report . Minister Arens admitted and claimed that he placed no supervision on Eitan, as he was occupied with the war in Lebanon; that Eitan's involvement in intelligence came as a surprise; that his numerous meetings with Eitan were devoted to the subject of Shi'ite terror; that he received no briefing on the LaKaM when he entered office as defense minister; and that his term of office as defense minister was brief.
- This version serves as a sort of admission that Moshe Arens did not fulfill the orders of ministerial responsibility concerning Rafi Eitan and he must be held responsible in respect of this fact. Moreover, Rafi Eitan submitted to us a different portrayal from that remembered by Moshe Arens. Rafi Eitan testified, based on notes made at the time in question, that he conversed many times with Arens concerning subjects that should have aroused the minister's curiosity and concern in respect of the sources of information and material that he received, and particularly in the month of August, a short time before the office was transferred to Yitzhak Rabin, Arens heard reports from Rafi Eitan that should have led him to heightened vigilance.
- The conclusion is that Defense Minister Arens did not do anything that could be construed as placing supervision or minimal authority on the LaKaM which was one of the units in the Defense Ministry.
It must be noted that Defense Minister Arens was expert in the professional subjects that Rafi Eitan dealt with. Our conclusion is that by any reasonable definition of the concept "ministerial responsibility," Moshe Arens must be held responsible regarding the critical period of the commencement of the Pollard affair in 1984.
- Moshe Arens' background and past should have led him to pay attention and become involved in LaKaM matters, more so than any other defense minister who served either before or after him. Moshe Arens understood the LaKaM both because of his personal and professional connections and as a result of his public duties prior to his term as defense minister. He certainly knew that the LaKaM was an organization that handled delicate and problematic matters which require supervision and control.
In light of this, Arens' responsibility becomes all the more serious for two reasons. First, because of the fact that Rafi Eitan fulfilled the function of head of the LaKaM on a part-time basis only; and secondly, because Arens consented to have the LaKaM headed by a man whose main attention was given to another subject, while the LaKaM did not receive the management and concern which demand the full energies, intelligence and responsibilities of the man who stands at its head.
- Yitzhak Rabin "inherited" a situation in which the neglect of matters in the unit Rafi Eitan headed became a sort of tradition. Rabin served in this position for 14 months during which time the Pollard operation continued. This means he had a prolonged opportunity to consider phenomena that should have concerned him. Undoubtedly, the minister's security and political experience were such as to impart to him expertise and sensitivity concerning the activities of Rafi Eitan and the LaKaM.
- Apparently there are supervisory mechanisms in the form of follow-up committees, however, the Ministry's directorate did not ask Eitan what was the objective of the administrative assistance he sought. In fact, Rafi Eitan's subordination was but a formal myth.
- Nonetheless, during the time of Yitzhak Rabin, Rafi Eitan ceased to serve as an advisor on terrorism and the leadership of the LaKaM remained his only function.
Generally speaking, we received testimony that proved Yitzhak Rabin demonstrated much greater sensitivity than his predecessor in matters relating to the supervision of the LaKaM. We can only regret that this sensitivity did not lead to more vigorous action that may have perhaps prevented, while there was yet time, the damage that resulted from the eruption of the Pollard affair, which began during Moshe Arens' term of office as defense minister.
- Therefore, it must be determined that Defense Minister Yitzhak Rabin did not fulfill the orders of ministerial responsibility in respect of the supervision of Rafi Eitan and the LaKaM.
Reservations of MK Simcha Dinitz Concerning the Role of Yitzhak Rabin:
- In the first section, the following sentence must be eliminated: "This means that he had a prolonged opportunity to consider phenomena should have caused him concern." The reason being that intelligence material has been brought to the attention of all defense ministers, prior to this period and subsequently, and there has never been any indication in it of the source of the material.
- The second section should be omitted and in its stead the following should be written: "Material was submitted to the Committee which indicates that the defense minister did actually demonstrate vigilance and even directed the attention of the head of the LaKaM to the risks involved in his activities."
The Decision to Co-operate with the US
On the night between the 30th of November and the 1st of December, at 3:30 a.m., the US Secretary of State telephoned Shimon Peres, the Prime Minister of Israel. During this conversation, the two discussed the nature of the cooperation between Israel and the US in this affair.
Committee members are divided in their opinions regarding the significance of several of the commitments concerning this cooperation.
Following is the position of Committee members: Abba Eban, Simcha Dinitz and Micha Harish:
The announcement regarding Jonathan Pollard's exposure and arrest placed the government of Israel in extremely great distress. The impression was created that Israel had behaved toward the most friendly world power the Jewish people had ever known in a manner that was inappropriate to the tradition of friendship, shared values and interests of the two nations. In addition to the bitterness and grief expressed in the Administration's position, a most hostile media campaign against Israel developed. The prime minister, and the deputy prime minister and foreign minister held urgent consultations, in which the defense minister joined immediately upon his return from abroad. These three figures took care to explain to a Cabinet meeting, to the public on numerous occasions and to this Committee, that they saw themselves as members of a team who are partners, and all are responsible for all decisions taken. They did not raise any reservations or appeal about any one of them. When we came to look into what they had said before the Committee, we did not discover a breach or division in their approaches or in the strategy they recommended. The urgency of the pressure imposed by the US to arrive at a clarification of the matter, together with clear signs that the political echelon in the US sincerely wanted to discover the cause of and extinguish the conflagration, compelled the three ministers to urgently consider the US front. For this purpose, a team of inquiry (comprising Avraham Shalom, Chanan Bar-On and Attorney Ram Caspi) was set up to examine, clarify and contend with the problems created with the United States.
Beginning on the 22nd of April, internal consultations and an exchange of messages with the Secretary of State took place in an effort to placate the Administration and to reach a level of co-operation. A significant milestone in the development of the Israeli strategy was a conversation that occurred in the early hours of the morning (between November 30 and December 1) when Secretary of State Schultz telephoned Prime Minister Peres. In this conversation, the prime minister clarified for Mr. Schultz the following points: (a) Pollard is an aberrant matter. The political echelon did not know of the matter and initiative had been taken without consent and without any official authorization. (b) Israel commits to fully cooperate with the US. (c) Israel will allow unrestricted access to the persons involved. (d) Israel will discipline those found responsible. (e) The unit whose personnel were part of the action will be dismantled. (f) Israel will return documents obtained by means of Pollard.
These commitments were not without reservations. The prime minister requested that the interpretation given to his commitments be discussed by Chanan Bar-On on behalf of Israel and Deputy Secretary of State Armacost on behalf of the US.
Yitzhak Shamir, who was the deputy prime minister and foreign minister related to us regarding the conversation that "there were consultations. It was clear that we were heading toward full cooperation in order to put an end to the matter."
In response to a question by Committee members regarding where was it decided to return the documents and to allow testimony, Mr. Shamir replied that "This was discussed at meetings .. Mr. Peres spoke with the Secretary of State concerning the return of documents because they claimed it was American property. The possibility of an Israeli interrogation was discussed, however, this had also been previously discussed. This was not something that Peres had thought of on the spot during his conversation."
The three ministers had been and still were in agreement concerning their backing of what Mr. Peres had said to Mr. Schultz in their telephone conversation and all the decisions that had been taken in the matter under discussion.
It is our opinion that the policy decided upon was correct and the telephone conversation with Mr. Schultz was rightly in its place. Mr. Schultz was, justly, portrayed to Mr. Peres not only as the foreign minister of a wronged country but also as a friend of Israel who wished to extricate the relations of the two countries from the adversity which troubled them. Moreover, the three ministers did not give Schultz an open pledge. They presented restrictions and qualifications; they conditioned their action on the defense of Israel's security and intelligence interests; they placed restrictions on the location and form of the interrogation. In addition, the three ministers conditioned the cooperation on the granting of immunity to the three persons involved in the affair and on the consent of the Americans to the fact that the documents returned would not be used to convict Pollard.
These steps prevented collapse and created close cooperation with Secretary of State Schultz. The senior political echelon in the US reacted positively to the conversation with Mr. Peres and to the messages that followed. Mr. Peres and Mr. Shamir received messages permeated with appreciation and overflowing with friendship from Mr. Schultz, since he wanted for his part to localize the affair. And there were grounds to believe that the tension was dissipated and relations with the US would relax. It is difficult to describe as a "failure" a course of diplomacy that culminated in such a degree of success. The alternative to this policy would have caused a painful breakdown in relations between the US and Israel with all the ramifications thereto. It would have caused an extreme and furious reaction in all parts of American society. It would have also placed Israel in conflict with Secretary of State Schultz and thereby with the White House. It would have brought negative reactions against Israel both from public opinion and in Congress.
Several months later, the situation again became complicated, however the elements who caused this were not grounded in the decision on cooperation of the prime minister, his deputy, and the defense minister or actually in the commitment voiced by Mr. Peres to Mr. Schultz. This worsening of the situation did not ensue from the strategy taken by the government in the first days of the crisis. It originated in an error committed by the inquiry team who were not sufficiently judicious to disclose the full picture to the political echelon, including the role of Colonel Sela in the affair, as well as several other errors of tactics and information described in the following section.
The foundations of the alliance with the United States are strong and deep and Israel's policy of cooperation prevented injury to the pivotal components of the friendship that the government and people of the US feel toward Israel.
Following is the position of Committee members: Eliyahu Ben Elissar, Ehud Olmert and David Magen:
On the night between November 30 and December 1, 1985 at 3:30 a.m., US Secretary of State George Schultz telephoned Prime Minister Shimon Peres. In the course of their conversation, Mr. Peres agreed to specify the modes of cooperation that Israel would undertake with the US in this affair. At the end of their talk, Mr. Peres gave several commitments on the following subjects:
- The Israelis who were involved in this affair would be interrogated by representatives of the American government.
- The Pollard documents would be returned to the United States.
- The LaKaM unit was to be dismantled and its personnel dismissed.
- Disciplinary steps would be taken against the persons responsible for this affair.
There is no doubt that the State of Israel had an obligation to propose immediate cooperation with the government of the United States following Pollard's exposure. In addition to an unequivocal and full apology, the circumstances of Pollard's exposure, the American anger which was justified, the fear of serious damage to US - Israel relations, all these justified an approach of cooperation in this matter. The question is what should have been the manner and extent of cooperation that Israel ought to have proposed. The consent of Prime Minister Shimon Peres to return the documents delivered by Pollard was fundamentally mistaken and caused serious damage. These documents constituted the basis for the conviction and life sentence that Pollard received, in spite of the Israeli assertion that there was an American commitment not to use the documents against Pollard. The inability to fully perform the commitment to submit the documents led to a crisis of confidence between the United States and Israel.
The prime minister did not heed the advice of those who handled the affair on his behalf, who believed that it would not be possible to return the said documents.
As to the decision to return the documents, there was no prior discussion in the context of the ministerial team or in any other forum. We did not find any notes from consultations, meetings, discussions or even a precursory telephone call in which it was concluded to take this step.
The next day following the telephone call, the prime minister reported it to the ministerial team and they agreed to it. The ministers' consent to the prime minister's decision was erroneous, although under the circumstances, following Mr. Peres' commitment to Mr. Schultz, it was impossible to go back on it without causing even greater damage. We do not accept the claim that there was no choice but to give the commitment for the return of the documents. Cooperation with the US was essential and there were additional channels of action. If Shimon Peres had ordered a proper investigation, as he was obliged to do, he would certainly have avoided the proposal to return the documents and perhaps would even have refused to allow the interrogation of the Israelis involved in the affair. However, Mr. Peres failed to order an investigation and examine the necessary items and in this manner complicated the issue with a commitment he should never have given.
- The prime minister, with the consent of the deputy prime minister and the defense minister, appointed a team of inquiry, yet did not initiate a comprehensive investigation that would clarify the account of the venture accurately and in detail. For a long time, serious confusion reigned as a result of which Israelis of all echelons prognosticated, in a variety of forms and styles, to one another as well as toward external elements. Again, damage was caused to Israeli credibility which was and remains the focal problem in Israel's struggle to recover its position. Actually, it was justified that priority be given to rapprochement with the US, however at the same time, and in any case immediately thereafter, there was a duty to formulate a correct rendition, which was true and persuasive, concerning the circumstances of Israel's involvement.
- Instead, a totally unfounded story was disseminated among American administration circles that did not persuade anyone who heard it anywhere.
- An Israeli delegation departed for the US and returned five days later. During this time, contradictions and confusion in the various Israeli accounts persisted.
- A meeting was held at the Country Club with an American delegation headed by Justice Abraham Sofer. One of the serious mistakes committed by the inquiry team at this meeting was to conceal, without the knowledge of the political echelon, the role of Colonel Aviem Sela, as an important figure in the development of the affair. When this deceit was discovered, American anger was vigorous.
- The American administration and particularly the friendly elements therein, took the Israeli commitment "to punish those involved" very seriously. American interests focused here on two persons, Rafi Eitan and at a later stage, Colonel Aviem Sela. Rafi Eitan was appointed to direct the largest economic enterprise in Israel and the Americans protested.
- Several months ago, the intention to promote Colonel Sela both in rank and in position was quite prominently publicized. This step caused bitterness among the American people and a furious reaction was heard from the American public. Adding insult to injury, and in spite of the red light ignited by the American ambassador in his talks in Jerusalem, an announcement was published on the appointment of Colonel Aviem Sela as commander of the base at Tel-Nof. In the meantime, Colonel Aviem Sela resigned his position as commander of the Tel-Nof base. His resignation calmed the stormy spirits.
We would like to express our satisfaction at Sela's resignation from his position, however, we cannot ignore the error of Defense Minister Rabin who appointed him in these circumstances.
Responsibility of the Political Echelon - Following Pollard's Fall
Prime Minister Shimon Peres, his deputy Yitzhak Shamir and Defense Minister Yitzhak Rabin testified before us that the decisions taken during the period following Pollard's exposure, (commencing on 22-Nov-1985 and on), were by joint consent of all three men.
Accordingly, it follows that the three men were partners in their responsibility for these decisions.
In the Israeli parliamentary system, the position of prime minister is as first among equals.
Since Shimon Peres was the head of the team that handled the affair, his parliamentary responsibility in this matter exceeds that of the others.
Reservations of Knesset Members Simcha Dinitz and Micha Harish
We believe that after the sentence: "Accordingly, it follows that the three men were partners in their responsibility for these decisions." the following sentence should be added:
"The three men acted as a team by virtue of the functions they fulfilled in the Government as prime minister, deputy to the prime minister and foreign minister, and defense minister and jointly bear responsibility for their decisions to the Knesset."
Reservations of MK David Magen
Commencing on November 24, 1985, a forum comprised of three ministers has handled the affair:
A. the Prime Minister
B. the Foreign Minister
C. the Defense Minister
Indeed, we have heard an explanation that the dimensions of the Pollard affair are security-related and within the realm of the Foreign Ministry and hence, the special constellation of ministers. However, from the moment that the affair turned into a complicated international incident situated at the top of the diplomatic agenda, it is my opinion that a normative Government forum should have handled it. If the Government wanted to waive its authority and transfer it to a team comprising only three persons, it should have done so by an express decision in this matter.
Shimon Peres' Appearance Before the Sub-Committee on Intelligence and Secret Services on November 28, 1985 and His Address of a Cabinet Meeting On This Date
On 28-Nov-85, Prime Minister Shimon Peres appeared before this committee. Members of the committee are divided in their opinions concerning the nature of Mr. Peres' report.
Following is the position of Knesset Members Eliyahu Ben-Elissar, Ehud Olmert and David Magen.
The committee devoted considerable time to a discussion on Prime Minister Shimon Peres' appearance before it on 28-Nov-1985, following Pollard's exposure.
At this meeting, Mr. Peres reported the circumstances of Pollard's recruitment to the LaKaM. According to the account given by Peres, Pollard applied at his own initiative to Israel and explained that he was an American intelligence agent. He presented appropriate documents to verify this claim. Already at the 28-Nov-85 session, MK Eliyahu Ben-Elissar indicated he very much doubted the probability of this account.
Nonetheless, this rendition was related to Cabinet members as well at a meeting the same day, while the night before at 11:00 p.m., Mr. Peres had sent a message to Secretary of State Schultz in which this version of the story appeared.
Clearly, if Pollard had indeed applied to Israel from the beginning, presenting himself as a US intelligence agent, who acts through unofficial channels of communication, then his activities in the service of Israel does not place the same degree of responsibility upon us as it would have in the instance Israel recruited him, as a spy for all intents and purposes.
It was self-evident that it was important to use this rendition to somewhat facilitate the difficulties in which we were caught. However, this rendition is, of course, imagined, with no truth to it and void of any chance for success, since Mr. Pollard did not come and introduce himself as an American intelligence agent and did not present his credentials to verify this claim.
The Circumstances of the Origins of this Account:
Immediately following the commencement of the disclosure of the Pollard affair, it was clear to various entities there was a vital need to formulate an Israeli account which would minimize the damages already caused and those yet to be caused in the future.
Mr. Peres claimed that yet on 22-Nov-1985, in a meeting held in his office following Pollard's exposure, he received an incorrect report stating Pollard had declared himself an American intelligence agent at his own initiative. Upon questioning, Prime Minister Peres replied that at the time the report was made, Rafi Eitan was sitting in the room and also confirmed this information.
Mr. Peres claimed that at no stage did he hear a different version of events and explained to the Knesset Committee the acceptance of the incorrect report as he himself having been convinced that it was a true rendition of the affair.
The chances that Mr. Peres had heard on 22-Nov-1985, the account of Pollard's volunteering as a true story were very poor for the simple reason that this story originated three days later. There is no possibility that on 22-Nov-1985, Peres heard an account that did not exist.
Mr. Peres claims that Rafi Eitan attended the meeting in which he was given the misleading report. Eitan's presence actually supports a version opposite to what Peres claims to have heard.
Eitan announced immediately following Pollard's exposure that he took full responsibility for the affair upon himself. He repeatedly stressed that no one in the political echelon had any information relating to Pollard personally.
In these circumstances, what grounds could there be for Eitan to mislead the political echelon in the matter when this could be of no use at all to himself?
Furthermore, Eitan submitted a document on 27-Nov-1985 which included a wonderful Israeli account from our perspective. Why would Eitan prepare such a document and at the same time promote the dissemination of a story which was misleading to the political echelon, while he was making every effort to cooperate and even to take personal responsibility upon himself?
The account that claimed that Mr. Peres was misled in this matter seems completely unreasonable. Mr. Peres should have and could have known exactly what had occurred and under what circumstances Pollard was recruited for employment in the LaKaM. According to the best of our knowledge, on 28-Nov-85, Mr. Peres indeed should have known this.
Several members of the Committee asked why Mr. Peres would want to present a story which was stitched together so coarsely and could so very easily be disproved.
This question apparently seems to be reasonable. However it is not. Mr. Peres did not at all pretend to claim that Israel could and needed to disclose all details of the story to the Americans and indeed, there is no doubt that it was essential to formulate a reasonable account, albeit a partial one.
The question was what version to present to Mr. Schultz. Mr. Peres gave him the only account that had been brought to his attention. The fact that this version was disproved does not confirm the fact that Mr. Peres did not know that it was a fabricated story. It only proved that it was an ineffective fabrication.
It is possible to forgive Mr. Peres for the use of such a story that had no chance of being believed, had he not purported to present it as a true story to the members of the Knesset Committee.
What is the reason for Mr. Peres' failure in his stating an untruth to the Knesset Committee? There may be a variety of reasons which explain this, however it is not in our purview to analyze Mr. Peres' motivation concerning this question.
Ultimately, there is no doubt that Mr. Peres misled the Knesset Committee and conveyed to them an account that was not true.
In his defense, as you remember, Mr. Peres claimed that on 28-Nov, he did not yet know the truth and consequently he erred in good faith.
We would very much like to have believed his claim due to the great respect we have for Mr. Peres and his high-ranking position.
If indeed Mr. Peres' claim were true, that on 28-Nov-1985, he did not yet know the truth - then we must seriously question the nature of his functioning as prime minister, if one week after Pollard's exposure, Peres did not know the details of the matter.
In any case, Mr. Peres could have and was obliged to know the details. Failure to know them, at this stage, under these circumstances, while he was interacting with international entities and conveying an inaccurate report to the Knesset, these facts all speak for themselves.
Position of Abba Eban, Simcha Dinitz and Micha Harish
We vehemently reject the claim that Shimon Peres, as it were, knowingly conveyed inaccurate information in a certain section of his report, when he appeared before the Services Sub-Committee on 28-Nov-1985. We have full faith in Shimon Peres' account, in accordance with which he conveyed the information as he knew it at that time, believing that it was true.
Due to the sensitive nature of the issues from a security perspective, we can not list all the data upon which we base our position. However, two facts that may be published are sufficient to disprove the claim leveled against Shimon Peres.
- On the same day that Shimon Peres appeared before the Services Sub-Committee, on 28-Nov-1985, he also appeared before the Cabinet and read aloud the contents of a document in which the same information appears that he had conveyed earlier to the subcommittee. When he completed that section, Shimon Peres said, in accordance with the Cabinet protocol: "What we have written here is the truth."
- The misleading information reached Shimon Peres in a document which is currently to be found in the hands of the subcommittee, and which most certainly could be misleading! MK Ben-Elissar himself admits this in a discussion in the Services Sub-Committee on 27-Mar-1987.
It is important to note that the difference between what Shimon Peres knew and related on that day to the subcommittee and the information that he later realized was correct had no effect whatsoever on the committee's findings or conclusions, beyond the debate that arose concerning this specific point.
We regret the decision of Knesset members to publish words of censure against a citizen and public figure, with the clear and unjustified objective of disparaging his integrity and good name.
See Also: (The following are a sampling of related articles. Many more are on the website.)