The Pollard Test

Aaron Lerner - September 22, 1999 - The Jerusalem Post

The handling of the Jonathan Pollard case since his arrest in Washington on November 21, 1985, has tested the commitment of the Jewish state to those who risk themselves as agents in its service as well as American-Israeli relations.

The severity of Pollard's sentence as well as the refusal of President Clinton to respond to dramatic developments or to honor his end of a Pollard trade, along with the continuous smear campaign against Pollard by US intelligence organizations all point to a very disturbing element in American-Israeli relations.

Israel's handling of the Pollard affair - providing America the evidence to indict him but not to clear him of the most damaging claims; avoiding responsibility for Pollard (claiming it was a rogue operation until compelled by the High Court of Justice to acknowledge he was an Israeli agent); and now taking the preposterous stand that the fate of an Israeli agent is an internal American affair - raises questions as to the inconsistency of Israel's efforts on behalf of those in its service who require rescue.

In complete disregard of a plea agreement to the contrary, Pollard was sentenced to life imprisonment for passing classified information to Israel (he was never charged with harming the US, its agents or compromising America's codes).

At the time of Pollard's sentencing, American intelligence was reeling from the realization that their operations were seriously compromised by a mole. And while he was not actually charged with that crime, efforts to pin this crisis on Pollard by then-secretary of defense Caspar Weinberger, in a classified memorandum to the sentencing judge, cast his fate.

Yet when Russia's master mole in the CIA, Aldrich Ames (who apparently was in charge of the original damage report on Pollard's activities!), was finally uncovered, Pollard's sentence of life without parole was not adjusted nor did the American intelligence community tone down its campaign against him.

America's attitude towards Israel's spy goes beyond vindictive. Last year President Clinton agreed to include Pollard's release as a companion to the Wye package. Hours before the signing ceremony, with Israel already publicly locked into painful concessions, Clinton explained to the prime minister that he was not able to honor his pledge due to internal opposition.

A curious claim from a man who had no qualms about announcing plans to release Puerto Rican FALN terrorists despite similar objections from within his government.

When Pollard was arrested, Israel immediately provided the US with the key evidence against him: copies of American intelligence documents bearing his fingerprints. Yet to this day, Israel refuses to produce the master list of documents received from Pollard. That this exhaustive list does not include documents with the names of agents, codes or other cryptographic information would serve to lay to rest the spurious claims against Pollard.

The document list would also provide an important opportunity for Israeli intelligence and its American counterparts to come to grips with a problem that gnaws at Israeli-American relations: the US withholding of vital security information Israel was entitled to receive under a 1983 memorandum of understanding.

While Pollard was not on the prime minister's plane back from Washington after the Wye signing, there was a fallback understanding that he would be freed along with Israel's release of Palestinian security prisoners. This arrangement was derailed when Prime Minister Ehud Barak claimed in Washington that Pollard is "an internal American problem, best left for American internal deliberation."

Were the Mossad agents caught in the foiled Masha'al assassination "an internal Jordanian problem?" Did president Eisenhower regard Gary Powers' fate an "internal Soviet problem?"

Yet Barak claims that Israel is working "behind the scenes" for Pollard's release. But if this were truly the case, Barak's people would be in close contact with Pollard (as Netanyahu's were before Wye) to insure that Pollard does nothing that might frustrate Barak's efforts. Esther, Pollard's wife, tells me they have heard absolutely nothing from the Barak government.

Once again Jonathan Pollard finds himself with no alternative than to petition the High Court of Justice to order the government of Israel to do what it should be doing as a matter of course - including the supply of the master list. Pollard asked for an emergency hearing in light of his deteriorating health and the court has given the government until October 10 to respond.

One can only hope that the Barak government will respond with action rather than arguments. Otherwise the window of opportunity provided by Hillary Clinton's candidacy for senator in New York may be lost.

Dr. Aaron Lerner is a commentator and Middle East news analyst. He is CEO of IMRA, an independent news service based in Israel.

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