Tuesday was a banner day, a proud day for Jewish conspiracy theorists in America. People like Joseph E. diGenova smiled with glee as they watched 84-year-old Ben Kadish carted into the Manhattan Federal District courthouse on charges of transferring classified information to Israel 25 years ago.
He's just like Jonathan Pollard, they whooped. Another Pollard! At last, we have proof that Israel operates spy rings and SLEEPER CELLS in America! They bragged and bragged and smiled and smiled as their terrorist metaphors got wilder and wilder.
Sleeper cells? You mean agents sent to a country to lay in wait for the command to attack? Well, not exactly.
DiGenova made his name as the federal prosecutor who railroaded Pollard into a life sentence for crimes that generally should have netted him no more than a few years in the slammer. Obviously he has a way with words. And when he told The New York Times "sleeper cells," apparently he was referring to the FBI agents who went to sleep for 23 years and then suddenly woke up and decided to cart an old man out of his nursing home and charge him with capital crimes.
Both the fact that Kadish was released on a paltry $300,000 bail and the details that have been reported about his case make it pretty clear that Kadish was not a very serious spy. The sum total of his alleged actions, which occurred between 1979 and 1985, reportedly involved taking documents out of the library at the Picatinny Arsenal in northern New Jersey where he worked as a mechanical engineer and giving them to an Israeli consular official. The documents weren't highly classified because Kadish had a low security clearance.
Out of the 50-100 documents he transferred over six years, three are mentioned in the indictment. He allegedly transferred a document relating to nuclear weapons – weapons Israel reportedly already had an arsenal full of in the early 1980s. He allegedly transferred data relating to the F-15 fighter jet, which Israel already owned. And he allegedly transferred information about the Patriot missile defense system – which the US gave Israel five years later.
There is a reason that Israeli commentators are crying foul with the Kadish episode. According to the media reports, in 2004 – a period in which US-Israeli strategic ties were in turmoil due to Israeli weapons sales to China, US weapons sales to Saudi Arabia, and US adoption of the anti-Israel road map – the Bush administration pressed the Sharon government to acknowledge that 20 years earlier, when Pollard was transferring documents at a rate of hundreds per week to his Israeli handlers, Israel fielded another agent as well. Presumably, it was then that Israel was forced to divulge Kadish's identity to the Americans.
According to the Israeli media, subsequent to Israel's confidential statements to US officials, Kadish was questioned by the FBI and admitted to having transferred documents to Israel. He then left the country, traveled to Israel – where he could have stayed – and came home to the US.
Most Israeli commentators and unnamed government officials angrily allege that the timing of Kadish's arrest was chosen to damage Israel's relations with the US at a key moment. In two weeks President George W. Bush is scheduled to visit Israel to participate in its 60th Independence Day celebrations. It has been widely presumed that during his visit, the Olmert-Livni-Barak government will seek to secure Bush's agreement to commute Pollard's sentence and release him from prison before Bush leaves office. Kadish, it is alleged, was arrested to block any possibility that Pollard will be released.
Given the vindictiveness that has marked the US intelligence community's attitude toward Pollard since his arrest, it is possible that fear of a presidential pardon did inform the decision to arrest Kadish now. And yet, it is far from clear that an agreement on Pollard's release was ever in the cards. Bush has expressed no willingness to consider Israeli appeals for his release and neither the Sharon government nor the Olmert-Livni-Barak government has made any real efforts to secure Pollard's freedom. Indeed, in a sign of their contempt for Pollard, the Olmert-Livni-Barak government has Pollard's former handler, Pensioners Affairs Minister Rafi Eitan, sitting in the security cabinet.
It is also possible that Kadish was arrested to try to force Israel to make massive concessions to the Fatah terror group in order to secure a "peace agreement" between Israel and the PLO before Bush leaves office. In the past, the US has used allegations of Israeli espionage to cow Israel into toeing its line of appeasement towards the PLO. In 1997, the Clinton administration let loose hysterical headlines about a high-level Israel mole named "Mega" who had supposedly penetrated the highest levels of the US intelligence community. The story was a complete fabrication, but it came after a suicide bombing in Jerusalem had caused then-prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu to cut off contacts with Yassir Arafat.
In 2004, the US indicted two senior AIPAC lobbyists in a transparently political move, claiming that they were trafficking in classified documents to try to force the Bush administration to do something to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons. The lobbyists are still awaiting their trial, which is looking more and more like a farce every day. But in the meantime, the US has been free from Israeli pressure to take the Iranian nuclear program seriously for four years.
Kadish was arraigned the same day that the Los Angeles Times broke the story that CIA Director Michael Hayden would be briefing Congress on Thursday about Israel's September 6 air strike in Syria. For the past six months, the administration did everything it could to prevent any information on the Israeli air strike from getting out. In the end, Hayden was compelled to inform Congress about the details of the raid after the legislature conditioned its approval of the intelligence budget on receiving a full briefing on the air strike.
According to the Los Angeles Times report and subsequent stories, Hayden's testimony would acknowledge that US intelligence agencies failed to recognize the dangers of the North Korean-built plutonium reactor that Syria had constructed not far from its border with Turkey. It was Israeli, rather than American intelligence agencies that penetrated the facility, brought back video and physical evidence of its character, and then effectively destroyed it in a complicated air strike and commando raid.
So according to US media reports, Hayden's testimony would demonstrate two basic truths that the Jewish conspiracy theorists in the US intelligence community and the State Department are uninterested in having the public or Congress notice: Israeli intelligence is superior to US intelligence; and the US alliance with Israel is vital to US national security.
Since Israel's independence 60 years ago and especially since US-Israel strategic ties blossomed after the Six Day War, Washington has been of two minds about the Jewish state. The first, public mind is that Israel is the US's strongest and most reliable ally in the Middle East, and that the US-Israel alliance is strong because it is based on shared values as well as shared interests.
The second view is that Israel is a burden. As purveyors of this view see things, Israel is the national "Fagin." It is underhanded, pushy and untrustworthy. Indeed, as far as the anti-Semites in Washington are concerned, Israel is the source of all the US's difficulties in the Arab world and even in Europe.
For years, the purveyors of the second view have carried out an independent foreign policy regarding Israel that is completely at odds with the official US policy of embracing Israel as an ally. Indeed, t
he State Department has undermined every presidential attempt to treat Israel well since 1948.
Yet both the Israeli attack against the Syrian nuclear program and Israel's attitude toward espionage show how ridiculous and counterproductive that unofficial – yet consistent – US policy toward Israel actually is. In the case of the operation in Syria, protestations of the Israeli Left about not wanting to embarrass Syrian dictator Bashar Assad aside, Israel had a clear national interest in exposing the nature of the target as quickly as possible. Moreover, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert had a political interest in exposing the details of the raid to the Israeli public as quickly as possible.
And yet, bowing to US demands, Israel placed draconian censorship regulations on media reports of the strike. To please the likes of Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who still clings to the notion that her brilliant diplomatic skills will enable her to convince the North Koreans to give up their nuclear arsenal, Israel agreed to hide information of its vital mission and massive success from both its own people and from the global audience.
As for espionage, as the late Yitzhak Rabin once noted, every few years Israel discovers another US agent committing espionage against the state. Rather than make a big deal about it, and in spite of the fact that some of the information being stolen is deeply damaging to Israel's national security, out of a sense of comity with Washington, Israel keeps the scandals quiet and generally deports the spies.
By arresting an 84-year-old World War II veteran in an effort to place Israel under a cloud of suspicion as its military triumph in Syria is exposed to the American people, the US is sadly showing Israel once again that nice guys finish last. If Israel wants to be treated with respect by the US, the lesson of the Kadish affair, of the Syrian raid and of the Pollard affair is that Israel had better start pushing back.
The first thing it should do is arrest officials suspected of transferring classified materials to the US without authorization. It should then publish the names and details of US spies whom Israel previously caught and treated with kid gloves. Then it should publicly demand that Bush release Pollard from the prison where he rots, while the likes of Hizbullah agent Nada Prouty – who penetrated both the FBI and the CIA – is expected to receive a six-month prison sentence for her crimes.
When Bush arrives to celebrate Israel's 60th birthday, Israel's leaders would do well to show him that at 60, Israel is a grownup country. And as such, it demands to be treated with the respect due to the US's most reliable ally in the Middle East.
Originally published in The Jerusalem Post.