Israel Says Army Major [Amit] Was a Spy

Imprisoned Officer Said to Help U.S.

David Hoffman - The Washington Post - June 3, 1993

JERUSALEM, June 2 - Israel acknowledged for the first time today that a major in army intelligence was secretly tried and convicted in 1987 on charges of spying and having contacts with a foreign agent. Israeli sources said the officer was accused of providing information to the United States.

According to a government statement, Maj. Yosef Amit was sentenced to 12 years in prison by a regional court. The case was kept secret until today to protect state security, the statement said.

Israeli government spokesmen refused to elaborate on the case, and details of the charges against Amit could not be learned. However, the government statement suggested that he was accused of espionage and that he had contacts with foreign agents both n and outside Israel.

Israel's Supreme Court lifted some of the secrecy surrounding the case today at the behest of the military censor and security officials. The disclosure was prompted in part by pressure from legislator Dedi Zucker of the leftist Meretz bloc, who recently wrote to Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin questioning the need for secrecy surrounding this and other espionage cases. In response, the government suggested to the court that the veil be partly lifted, officials said.

In addition, a group of Israeli newspapers including the daily Haaretz has been pressing the Supreme Court to lift censorship in specific cases, and officials said this may have influenced the decision to make public some details of the Amit affair now.

In the last few years there has been speculation that Israel sought to exchange an unnamed convicted spy for Jonathan Jay Pollard, the former U.S. Navy intelligence analyst now serving a life term for spying for Israel. However, it could not be determined if Israel had ever proposed such an exchange to the United States. Pollard was arrested in 1985.

Amit served in elite military units including the paratroops and later joined army intelligence, which generally is concerned with the Arab states and their military and strategic situations.

He was arrested in 1986 at his home in Haifa and convicted by a three judge court in 1987. The television report said he has been held in a psychiatric ward in Ayalon prison, where he has received visitors from outside, but other sources said he was held for many years in isolation.

His current lawyer, Shmuel Tzang, told state-run Israeli radio today that Amit had not spied for "hostile countries" but that he could not say more because of restrictions. He said he was still trying to reduce the sentence. Israeli television said Amit is due to come before a committee soon that could allow his release next year.

According to "Every Spy a Prince," by Yossi Melman and Dan Raviv, Senator David Durenberger (R-Minn.) a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, once "let it slip that American intelligence had run at least one Israeli soldier as a paid agent during the 1982 invasion of Lebanon."

A spokesman for the CIA had no comment on the matter today.

Although the United States and Israel are close allies, they still attempt to gather information on each other. Melman said, "Although there are understandings and oral agreements that they shouldn't spy on each other, there is clear evidence both countries are engaged at various levels through different means in spying against each other. The only difference is that Israel was once exposed in the Pollard case, while America has never been exposed - at least not at the same level or with the same publicity.

  • See Also: The Amit and Kielczynski Page