The Pollard spat

Why has this sensitive matter become embroiled in a bizarre sideshow?

Pollard 248.88 (photo credit: AP)
Pollard 248.88
(photo credit: AP)
State Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss's tenaciousness has made him the bete noir of Israel's higher echelons. Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and others have often tried to discredit his dogged inquiries, including into conduct relating to the Second Lebanon War. Yet despite such sometimes reckless sparring, Lindenstrauss was reportedly stunned last week by banner headlines in which unnamed "security sources" accused him of sabotaging attempts to effect the long overdue release of imprisoned spy Jonathan Pollard. Lindenstrauss had indeed been conducting a probe into efforts (or lack thereof) by recent Israeli governments to secure Pollard's freedom. This was hardly Lindenstrauss's whim, as the assignment was thrust upon him by the Knesset Control Committee. Basic Law: State Comptroller (Clause 17) obliges the comptroller to "undertake any task...should he requested to do so by the Knesset." The work had already been under way for a few months and was defined as classified. Its findings were to stay under wraps, apart from whatever excerpts a subcommittee in conjunction with security officials deemed harmless. The commotion didn't arise from the comptroller's side but evidently originated in Olmert's inner circle, the very one which frequently accuses Lindenstrauss of creating a noisy fuss. It is not clear what Olmert's entourage might have sought to achieve by another onslaught on Lindenstrauss, other than continuing to delegitimize him. But here Olmert's aides may have sparked the very outburst of new conspiracy theories which they ostensibly sought to preempt. Pollard and his supporters - not all of whose actions on his behalf over the years, however well-intentioned, have contributed to his cause - assert that Olmert actually wishes to prevent Pollard's release to keep him from opening a Pandora's Box on the betrayals of Israeli governments past and present. It is more likely, however, that Olmert's staff is looking for an alibi to account for the failure to press for Pollard's release, while simultaneously turning Lindenstrauss into its fall guy via accusations that he courts publicity at the expense of the unfortunate prisoner. Pollard has been incarcerated since November 1985. Charged with spying for Israel, he reached a plea bargain which would have meant a 20-year maximum sentence, if not less. The presiding judge, however, ignored the deal and sent Pollard down for life without parole, a punishment considered extremely excessive for passing even highly sensitive information to a friendly country. His information on some matters - such as Iraqi and Syrian unconventional weapons, Soviet arms shipments to Damascus and Libyan air defenses - allegedly covered data that had actually been withheld by the Pentagon in violation of the 1983 Memorandum of Understanding between the two nations. On June 6, 1991 Pollard publicly apologized for "my indifference to the law." And in an open letter to President Clinton on May 26, 1996, he expressed "unconditional...heartfelt remorse for my actions." None of this facilitated his liberation. In 1998, prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu admitted Pollard had spied for Israel and sought to free him as part of the Wye River talks deal. Clinton, however, reneged on an initial agreement to do so. During President Bush's visit here last January, Olmert stated that "this isn't the appropriate occasion to discuss Pollard." Since Pollard's ultra-harsh sentence, other American spies have been apprehended and given lighter punishment for apparently greater offenses, including those involving tangible security risks to America. Just last week, a US defense official was sentenced to 24 years for passing sensitive technology to China regarding "silent" US Navy submarines. Yet although Pollard's sentence is unprecedented for one transferring intelligence material to a friendly country regarding inimical third states, no US administration in over two decades has countenanced pardoning him. It's high time the torment of the aging Pollard be ended. He has paid unprecedentedly for what he did. Holding him captive as he grows old and infirm serves no purpose and appears vindictive. America itself pressures Israel to release some of the most heinous of convicted terrorists as "gestures of goodwill" to the Palestinian Authority. The least Olmert should now demand without equivocation of his American interlocutors is a gesture of goodwill by America to Israel on its 60th anniversary. It is extremely unfortunate that this sensitive matter has now become embroiled in a bizarre recriminatory sideshow. The spat will be forgotten, of course, if Olmert does decide to make securing Pollard's freedom a national priority, and succeeds in achieving this goal before the end of the current US administration.