JERUSALEM — Israel's secret services are under siege these days, not by Arab enemies but by investigations into two scandals that, as they unfold, are offering a rare glimpse at the murkier side of Israeli intelligence operations, both at home and abroad.
While it is not clear whether both scandals will ever be fully probed, security experts say the Israeli intelligence community already has been profoundly shaken by the two investigations and the classified information that has become public over the past two weeks as a result of them.
The two scandals have also been deeply embarrassing to the government of Prime Minister Shimon Peres. Depending on how many of the allegations printed or hinted at in the Israeli press prove true, they could also be deeply damaging to several senior ministers in the coalition Cabinet.
2 Terrorists' Deaths
One scandal involves allegations that the head of the Shin Bet, Israel's version of the FBI, ordered and then covered up the killing of two Arab terrorists captured on April 12, 1984, after Israeli troops retook a bus that had been hijacked.
The two, photographed alive and on their feet immediately after their capture, were turned over to Shin Bet officers who marched them to a nearby field, where they died moments later.
Two commissions investigated the incident and concluded, largely on the basis of evidence furnished by the Shin Bet, that the fatal blows had been struck by Brig. Gen. Yitzhak Mordechai, commander of the paratroopers who stormed the bus. Mordechai, who had maintained his innocence, was later acquitted by a military board, which ruled that he had acted in the passion of the moment.
Now, however, three former Shin Bet officials who say they were either fired or forced to resign for not going along with an elaborate cover-up of the affair have alleged that Shin Bet chief Avraham Shalom had ordered the prisoners' deaths.
Their testimony has been partly supported by others who witnessed the incident. One former high-ranking security official who spoke on the condition of anonymity, told The Times that he stood next to Shalom in the field where the terrorists were beaten by Shin Bet interrogators.
The official said he turned away and left the scene when it became clear "they were being beaten to death." The only question, the source continued, "is whether Shalom explicitly ordered them to be killed or merely bore responsibility for their deaths by virtue of being the officer in charge." Late last year, the three Shin Bet dissidents, who were then still members of the secret service, took their allegations to Peres. He reportedly refused to listen to them.
Other Cabinet members who may be more deeply involved in the affair include Foreign Minister Yitzhak Shamir and Minister without Portfolio Moshe Arens. Shamir was prime minister at the time of the incident and was in close telephone contact with officials at the scene. One of those was Arens, then defense minister.
There have been numerous reports in the Israeli press that both men knew about and perhaps even participated actively in the cover-up, which included falsifying evidence, suborning witnesses and withholding crucial documents from the inquiry commissions.
The other scandal, which surfaced at about the same time as the Shin Bet affair, stems from an FBI investigation of an Israeli spy ring in the United States, which U.S. officials now believe was larger and more lavishly financed than Israel has yet admitted.
According to federal indictments filed with the U.S. District Court in Washington on Wednesday, Jonathan Jay Pollard, a U.S. Navy intelligence analyst, sold suitcases full of military secrets to Israel between mid-1984 and last November, when he was arrested.
Linked to Eitan
Shortly after Pollard's arrest, it was disclosed that he had been recruited by an until-then secret branch of Israeli intelligence run by one of Israel's top spy masters, Rafael Eitan, a former adviser on terrorism to two prime ministers.
Known by its Hebrew acronym LEKEM, the small but evidently well-financed and supported agency within the Ministry of Defense appears to have specialized in spying on friendly countries. Published reports and information from other sources have indicated, for instance, that LEKEM may have been involved in the theft some years ago of plans of the French Mirage fighter plane from a Swiss company--plans that are said to have been used to help produce Israel's Kfir jet fighter.
Denying all knowledge of the affair at first, Israel later admitted involvement but insisted--and still insists--that it was a "renegade" operation undertaken by Eitan without the knowledge or approval of the Peres government, which has stated that it would never knowingly try to steal secrets from such a close ally and large benefactor as the United States.