The Jerusalem Post Editorial - August 29, 2004

THE AIPAC KERFUFFLE

Spy. Israel. Pentagon. AIPAC. Pollard. Iraq. Iran. Mix these words together and you have quite a story on the weekend before the Republican convention in a hotly contested election campaign. The question is whether the smell that is in the air is that of a spy scandal or of a Washington political and policy war run amok.

On Friday, anonymous FBI officials leaked aspects of an ongoing investigation of Larry Franklin, a mid-level Pentagon official specializing in Iran. Franklin reportedly shared a draft memo on Iran policy with staff from AIPAC, an organization that lobbies to strengthen the already close relations between America and Israel. Those staffers reportedly "may" have passed that information on to Israel.

We are told that the FBI has been investigating Franklin for a year, giving the impression of heft to the story. But as our news pages reveal today, the two AIPAC staffers who are the supposed conduits for Franklin's information have not even been interviewed by the FBI. It can further be assumed that no Israelis have been interviewed either, making one wonder how much substance is behind both the Franklin-AIPAC link and the assumption that the information went further. Finally, the story itself has been watered down in many quarters from handing over classified information to "mishandling documents."

We, of course, do not know whether Franklin did inappropriately release classified information. American authorities have every right to find out, and if he did, to punish him accordingly.

We do know that Israel and the United States, as two countries on the front line in the struggle against militant Islamism should, routinely and officially share intelligence of the most sensitive nature. We do know that the idea of painting routine exchanges of information between Israel and the United States as sinister, or tinged with espionage, is itself sinister.

Let us not, as the media, be na ve. There are two parallel and bitter struggles raging in Washington, now reaching a crescendo. One is between Democrats and Republicans over control of the White House. A spy scandal at this time obviously harms the incumbent's chances of getting his message out in the main week set aside for doing so, the week of the Republican convention.

At the same time, there is an equally passionate and closely related struggle within the Bush Administration and outside over the president's post-9/11 foreign policy. Was ousting Saddam Hussein a critical centerpiece of the wider war or a festering mistake? Should Iran's nuclear weapons program be stopped and if so how? These debates have swirled around a handful of officials, all of whom are "pro-Israel" and some of whom are Jews.

It should not be surprising that the greatest overhaul in American foreign policy thinking since Harry Truman introduced containment after World War II would meet with resistance. There is ample room for debate over how aggressively and by what means the new doctrine of preemption and the new focus against state support for terrorism and for democratization should be implemented. But rather than fight these issues on the merits, the other side has at times stooped to conspiracy theories that are, let's face it -- anti-Semitic.

There may be substance behind the current scandal. Yet even in the most incriminating scenario, it is hard to imagine that the information released about US policy was that far removed from what appears in a serious newspaper. The more likely scenario is, as Newsweek quotes knowledgeable officials, "the political damage to Bush and the Pentagon may prove to be more serious than the damage to national security."

Actually, this scandal does threaten US national security in a different way: by emboldening those who believe that the entire post-9/11 American paradigm is a Jewish conspiracy imposed on the president, and who relish the prospect of a chill in the US-Israeli relationship.

AIPAC ends its statement on the current controversy thus: "We will not let any innuendo or false allegation distract us from our central mission -- supporting America's interests in the Middle East and advocating for a strong relationship with Israel."

Well said. Come what may, American and Israeli security demands that we not succumb to those who view our alliance as a conspiracy and our shared democratic cause as a threat.