The Jerusalem Post - August 29, 2004


by Gerald Steinberg

By their very nature, allegations of espionage and abuse of classified material get huge headlines, although the evidence -- if any -- usually remains murky and hidden from public scrutiny. This is particularly the case regarding the US and Israel, reflecting the wide security cooperation that has developed in response to terrorism, nuclear proliferation, and other mutual threats. Mixed with hints of conspiracy and dual loyalty, such cooperation presents a huge target for the relatively small number of American officials and journalists who want to see this relationship halted.

For many years, claims involving Israel and spying have been manipulated in the effort to drive a wedge between Washington and Jerusalem, particularly after the Pollard fiasco. The damage to relations in that case was extensive, and its echoes are still being felt today, making another "affair" the dream of all those who wish to disrupt US-Israel cooperation. But the lessons from Pollard appear to have been learned by both the Israeli government and the US. At the same time, the absence of real and juicy spy scandals has spurred the invention of fictitious ones.

A few years ago, false charges that Israel was stealing and selling the Pentagon's technical secrets to China were later revealed to have been part of a personal campaign of revenge involving two American officials working for different branches of the government. And headlines claiming that Israel was eavesdropping on the US were also exposed as nonsense. In another case, the head of the CIA -- George Tenet -- sent an apology to then Mossad head Danny Yatom apologizing for accusations linking Israel to espionage.

These periodic leaks and allegations, including the current case, reflect a wider agenda. The Arab lobby in Washington is gaining influence and access to the media, and peddling such stories is one means of moving the focus away from terrorism and the growing pressure from many Americans to end support for the corrupt regimes in the Middle East. In addition, fringe Republican Pat Buchanan and his adherents cling to the classical anti-Semitic myths in which Jews are portrayed as all powerful, and secretly manipulating US policy.

The post-war complications in Iraq and the charge that a neo-conservative kabal (code for Jews and Zionists, even though the top two neo-cons -- Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld and Vice President Cheney are neither) led America into this confrontation have revived these myths. This may explain the attempt to involve AIPAC -- the "powerful" pro-Israel lobby -- and the timing of this leak at the height of the US election campaign.

Yet despite these efforts and short-lived headlines, US-Israel security cooperation has become stronger, reflecting an understanding of the necessity of sharing resources and knowledge in order to counter the threats to both. In addition, the underlying shared values of democracy and freedom remain central, and mark the difference between American and European attitudes towards Israel.

As a result, in the earlier alleged espionage cases, including the Pollard affair, after the dust cleared, this common core remained intact, and there is no reason to expect the outcome to be different this time. Indeed, investigations into the sources of the allegations and the embellishment added by CBS News may deter the next round of this game.

Prof. Gerald M. Steinberg directs the Program on Conflict Management at Bar-Ilan University.