No sign spy affair will harm US ties

Several US officials downplay the incident, pointing to lengthy amount of time since it occurred.

Kadish court 224.88 (photo credit: AP)
Kadish court 224.88
(photo credit: AP)
The Bush administration has yet to indicate that the arrest of a former US army engineer on charges he spied for Israel will seriously affect relations between the two countries. Privately, several US officials have downplayed the incident and suggested fears of blowback are unjustified. They have pointed to the lengthy amount of time - 23 years - since the espionage is alleged to have occurred and the understandings that emerged between the two states after the arrest of Israeli spy Jonathan Pollard roiled ties between the two allies. State Department spokesman Tom Casey spoke of the case only in terms of its connection to the Pollard affair and didn't speak of broader national security implications when asked at a press briefing after the news broke. "I don't think, as far as I know, this fundamentally changes what we understood or what we learned to be the issues involved during that first case back in the mid-1980s," he said. "We have a good, friendly relationship with the State of Israel. And certainly, again, as I said, these kinds of activities, whether they occurred long in the past or, you know, occur present-day are not the kinds of actions we would expect from a friend and ally. And we would expect that Israel would not be engaging in such activities," he continued. On Capital Hill, as well, there was little evidence of a rupture in relations. "It's very unpleasant and it's extremely upsetting because it recalls Pollard," said one congressional staffer, but, "Given the fact that we believe that Israel changed its policy on spying following the Pollard incident - I don't see the administration making a big deal over it." "I don't expect it to have any operational impact. It creates a little bit of a sour taste on the eve of Israel's 60th anniversary celebrations," he added. The news of the arrest broke as US President George W. Bush is making plans to visit Israel for its 60th birthday next month and could overshadow what was meant to be a celebratory occasion as well as an opportunity to push the American-backed peace process between the Israelis and Palestinians forward. But those very issues can serve as a reminder of what the administration's true priorities remain. "Ultimately the US-Israel relationship has to be a result of the national interests of the two countries, and something like this shouldn't affect that calculus," said David Wurmser, who served as a Middle East adviser to US Vice President Dick Cheney until last year. "My sense is at the highest levels it would be met with a degree of maturity. To the president, vice president, this would be seen as legal affair without any broad importance." Bruce Reidel, a former CIA official and Middle East analyst, said that while the incident would "obviously damage the US-Israel relationship in the public sphere," it wouldn't necessarily result in a significant rupture in the two countries' close cooperation. He described the relationship between the US and Israel intelligence agencies as "excellent," and said the revelations wouldn't shock Americans who already suspected Pollard hadn't worked alone. "US intelligence long ago came to the conclusion that Israel is engaged in espionage against the United States," he said. "That's something they agreed to disagree on." Cooperation between the two countries ceased for some time after the Pollard affair came to light. But now, Reidel said, "given the passage of time, I think both governments will not want this to upset the already many difficult issues they have to deal with." American Jewish leaders also said they hadn't received indications that a major break had occurred. "If there was a real schism, believe me, we'd know it," said Malcolm Hoenlein, executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations. "There's no schism here."