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Why is Israeli spy Jonathan Pollard back in the news?

January 25, 2014 at 3:01 pm

By Jeff Gates

Over the past two months, Benjamin Netanyahu has mentioned the fate of jailed Israeli spy Jonathan Pollard six times in meetings with President Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. The Israel lobby has also mounted a letter-writing campaign on Pollard’s behalf.

When he was arrested for espionage in the 1980s, Tel Aviv swore that Pollard was part of a “rogue” operation. It took 12 years for Israel to concede that he had been their spy all the time. That insider espionage by a purported ally damaged US national security more than any other incident in American history.

During his first term as Israel’s Prime Minister, Netanyahu secured a verbal agreement from Bill Clinton in 1998 to release Pollard. Clinton then faced a rebellion among US intelligence agencies aware of the damage that Pollard’s espionage on behalf of Israel had done to America. Pollard took more than one million documents for copying by his Israeli handler. When transferred to the Soviets, reportedly in exchange for the emigration of Russian Jews, that stolen intelligence shifted the underlying dynamics of the Cold War. Clinton backed down and Netanyahu backed off.

What has its entangled alliance with Israel cost the US? America committed $20 trillion to Cold War defence from 1948-1989 (at 2010 dollar values). Pollard negated much of that outlay through his treachery, yet even now Israel pretends to be an ally. Few believe it; many realise that America has been played for a fool.

Why now?

The timing of the push for Pollard’s release could be a Christmas season plea for clemency after 25 years of imprisonment. Former Assistant Secretary of State Lawrence Kolb is a supporter of the campaign for Pollard’s release; he now claims that the sentence was excessive due to the personal distaste for Israel of the then Secretary of Defence Casper Weinberger.

From 1981-1985, Pollard – a US Navy intelligence analyst – provided Israel with 360 cubic feet of classified military documents on Soviet arms shipments, Pakistani nuclear weapons, Libyan air defence systems and other intelligence sought by Tel Aviv to advance its geopolitical agenda. At his trial, Pollard claimed he wasn’t stealing from the US; he was stealing secrets for Israel, with whom the US has a “special relationship”. Aware of the harm done by Pollard during the Reagan-era defence build-up, Weinberger pressed for a longer sentence than the prosecution.

Even while in prison, Pollard’s iconic status among pro-Israelis may have played a strategic role. Or was it just coincidence that Tel Aviv announced a $1 million grant to their master spy ten days before 9/11? Is that how Israel signals to its operatives in the US? Could that be an explanation for the timing of Israel’s latest announcement? Could this news flurry be a signal to pro-Israel volunteers (sayanim in Hebrew) that another operation is imminent?  

Timing is everything

Tel Aviv routinely schedules its operations during political “downtime” in the US. The Suez crisis was scheduled for the last week of President Eisenhower’s 1956 re-election campaign. Fast forward to 2008 and Israeli troops invaded Gaza just after Christmas, killing 1,400 Palestinians before exiting just prior to the Obama inauguration. That well-timed provocation generated yet more outrage against America as Israel’s reliable enabler. The carnage also catalysed reactions worldwide that undermined peace talks.  

This latest news about Pollard coincides with another political downtime. The US Congress has adjourned and the White House has shut down for the holidays. Plus WikiLeaks removed the breakdown in the Israel-Palestine peace talks from the news and restored talk of war with Iran. If there is another “incident” in the US or the EU, will the finger point to Tehran, Islamabad or Damascus? If America cannot be persuaded to invade Iran, can it be provoked to do so? Stay tuned.

What next?

Tel Aviv may be growing desperate and for good reason. Israel and pro-Israelis were the source of the fixed intelligence that induced the US to invade Iraq in response to the provocation of 9/11. That is a fact well known to intelligence agencies worldwide. As with Pollard, Tel Aviv denies it.

With Pollard back in the news, anything is possible. Recall how long it took for a confession that he was an Israeli spy. Don’t hold your breath waiting for Tel Aviv to admit its role in provoking its primary ally to pursue a Zionist agenda in the Middle East. Without the mass murder of 9/11, would the US now find itself at war in the region? In the absence of another provocation, Americans are not inclined to expand these wars; at least not yet.

“I know what America is,” Benjamin Netanyahu assured a group of Israelis in 2001, apparently not aware that his words were being recorded. “America is a thing you can move very easily, move it in the right direction.”

Pollard has long been a rallying point for Jewish nationalists, Zionist extremists and ultra-orthodox ideologues; only time will tell why he is back in the news. Perhaps then we will also know if this news is actually another means for moving the US “in the right direction”.

Jeff Gates is the author of Guilt By Association—How Deception and Self-Deceit Took America to War. See

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.