Diplomacy: Is this any way to treat friends?

Does espionage work both ways? The US Justice Depratment's response to the Kadish case shows otherwise.

Kadish court 224.88 (photo credit: AP)
Kadish court 224.88
(photo credit: AP)
The surprise arrest in the US this week of 84-year-old Ben-Ami Kadish for allegedly spying for Israel a generation ago highlights a fascinating little point: One never hears about the US spying on Israel. Why not? Is Washington not interested in inside info on what Israel is up to? Is the CIA, with agents spanning the globe, not keen on securing pre-knowledge of Israel's technological advances in defense and security fields? Unlikely. Rather, the more probable reason is because when US spies are uncovered here, as they surely have been over the years, it never hits the news. Yossi Alpher, a former senior Mossad officer, cited former US officials as saying that the CIA spies on Israel, just as it spies everywhere else. "But when someone is caught here, he receives a wrap on the knuckles, and is declared persona non grata," Alpher said. "The fact that you never hear that someone was tried and put in jail for spying for the US reflects a different approach on Israel's part. It is not that we are not worried about sensitive information falling into other hands, it's just that when those hands happen to be friendly ones, we deal with it differently - unlike the US Justice Department." Alpher, who now co-edits the Israeli-Palestinian on-line dialogue magazine bitterlemons.org - and is most definitely not a conspiracy theorist seeing an anti-Semite lurking under every US government desk - said he can't escape the conclusion that the US Justice Department is looking for Israel. "When you take this case, together with the refusal to release [Jonathan] Pollard, even when spies working for the Soviet Union and China who caused death to other agents have been released, when you take into account the AIPAC case [the 2005 arrest of two senior AIPAC staffers on espionage charges], and attempts to recruit Israelis [to spy here for the US], it seems the Justice Department is targeting Israel. I don't know why, but we are being treated pretty roughly." Alpher said it is not unheard of in the annals of espionage, both here and abroad, that when someone old and frail is caught having spied may years ago, the charges are just dropped. But not this time. "The Justice Department is targeting Israel," he said. "They have been looking for additional Americans spying for Israel for a long, long time." Indeed, one senior government official said Kadish's arrest may finally shed some light on why the US has been so adamant for so long in holding Pollard, even though other spies who have spied for hostile countries - not friendly ones - have been treated more leniently. Most Israelis, the official said, have thought the Pollard case was over and done with. Most thought that his long-term incarceration, the closure of the intelligence organization, known as the Bureau of Scientific Relations, that "ran" him, the Israeli promise never to spy on the US again, and the intervening two decades had put an end to the affair as an American-Israeli issue. But they were wrong. "The Pollard case is not over," he said. "The US did not release him because they were convinced, and are still convinced, that there were other fish involved, much bigger than Pollard - including one very senior official. And they want him. Since Israel has never admitted this, the US is keeping Pollard as a bargaining chip, and not willing to part with him." In light of the Kadish arrest, Pollard's chances of being released have diminished even further, he said, because it shows there were indeed other Israeli agents operating in the US at the same time, using similar methods, and being operated by the same handler - a man identified in the press as Yossi Yagur. As to the timing, this official - basing himself on the US Justice Department announcement of Kadish's arrest - said it had to do with a bugged telephone conversation Kadish allegedly made to his former handler, which apparently provided proof of a conspiracy that the Justice Department was waiting to prove for a long time. "One of the first rules of espionage is not to contact your previous handler," he said. ACCORDING TO the Justice Department announcement, on March 20, 2008, Kadish and his former handler, known in the communiqué as CC-1, had a telephone conversation, "during which CC-1 instructed Kadish to lie to federal law enforcement officials. The following day, during an interview with the FBI, Kadish denied having had the telephone conversation with CC-1." That telephone conversation, according to the official, explains more than anything else the timing of the arrest. However, the proximity of the arrest to US President George W. Bush's visit to celebrate Israel's 60th anniversary next month does have some Israeli officials wondering whether the two events might not, indeed, be connected. "They could have waited and done this after the Bush visit," the official posited. He speculated - and at this point it is all speculation - that there were some in the US intelligence community who wanted to keep Bush from coming here, and either announcing the release of Pollard, something that has been whispered about for the last few months, or giving Israel too many birthday presents before he leaves office, something that had been discussed more seriously. The official pointed out that it was the same intelligence community that last year produced the National Intelligence Estimate that said Iran had ditched its nuclear weapons program in 2003 - conclusions which Jerusalem largely viewed as politically motivated to keep Bush from taking military action against Iran. Among the "gifts" reportedly on the table and being discussed as Bush's parting gift to Israel are linking Israel to the American worldwide radar system that provides early warnings of any ballistic missile fired anywhere in the world; advanced models of the Joint Direct Attack Munition smart bombs, or JDAMs; the possibility of selling Israel the F-22 Raptor, a stealth fighter; integrating Israeli defense industries into the production of the Joint Strike Fighter; and the possibility of upgrading the US-Israel strategic alliance to include some kind of defense pact. As a result of the Kadish case, there will now be those who will ask whether these types of "goodies" should be given to a country that spies on the US. THE QUESTION, however, is to what degree those voices will resonate in the US. One official of a major US Jewish organization said this case should not be seen as something isolated, but rather within the context of the Pollard case, the AIPAC espionage case, and the recent anti-Israel books written by former US president Jimmy Carter and academics Stephen Walt and John Mearsheimer. The question, he said, was whether - like the dripping of water on a rock - all this does not in the long term have a serious erosive effect. According to the official, there is a hard core of people in the State Department, Justice Ministry and intelligence agencies who don't like Israel, not because they are anti-Semitic, but because they view Israel as a huge albatross around the US's neck, keeping Washington from doing what it needs to do in the region to placate its own real enemies. The Kadish arrest, the official said, simply plays into those people's hands. Nevertheless, despite the concerns, David Kimche, who during the period of Kadish's alleged espionage was director-general of the Foreign Ministry, said he doubted the case would cause any real long-term damage to the Israeli-US relationship. Kimche, a former Mossad agent who rose to become No. 2 in the agency, said "I don't think [US] officials will change their position [on Israel-US relations] because of this. It is an old episode and the US government knows very well that since those days in the 80s there have been no cases of espionage by Israel in the US." Kadish's alleged activities took place from 1979-1985. As to how Israel should respond to the whole episode, Kimche said simply: "By saying as little as possible." Which is also the advice given to the government's spokesmen by Ra'anan Gissin, who was former prime minister Ariel Sharon's longtime spokesman. Gissin said the best public relations strategy to adopt at this time would be to play down the story, and that government officials should not give it oxygen by discussing it at length. "The officials should be saying that there is a need to see what the investigation produces, and that no one at this time knows anything about the facts," he said. "Israel should bide its time and find a way to lower the profile, because this story might just be a story like that New York Times piece a little while back about John McCain's 'lover' - a story that died because of a lack of real content." Jerusalem, clearly, is praying the exact same fate awaits this story as well.