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Israelis Call for Probe of Pollard Case : But Shamir Deflects Ministers' Request for Formal Inquiry

March 09, 1987|DAN FISHER | Times Staff Writer

JERUSALEM — Several Israeli Cabinet members called Sunday for a government investigation into the Jonathan Jay Pollard spy affair, but Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir strongly opposed any probe and, with the backing of his principal coalition partners, managed to refer the issue to his "inner cabinet."

"The painful issue called the Pollard affair is closed as far as Israel is concerned," Shamir told a group of Florida Jewish leaders Sunday night. He spoke just hours after three ministers submitted a formal question to the government in the case of the former U.S. Navy intelligence analyst sentenced to life imprisonment last week for passing defense secrets to Israel.

Seek to Avert Formal Probe

A handful of other ministers said they agreed that an inquiry into the affair is necessary, but by referring the matter to the so-called inner cabinet of 10 senior ministers, Shamir and others clearly hope to squelch any formal investigation.

Meanwhile, senior government sources reported mounting pressure for the resignation of Col. Aviem (Avi) Sella, an Israeli air force officer implicated in the affair.

Sella's reassignment late last month to a prestigious new post triggered sharp protests from the United States, which viewed the move as undermining official contentions here that Pollard was involved in a rogue espionage operation that was unauthorized by the political leadership.

However, Shamir was quoted by the Israeli media this morning as telling a group of educators at his home Sunday night that Sella had already been punished enough. He said Sella had been a candidate to become chief of the Israeli air force, but because of the Pollard affair now lost all chance for the post.

Reviewing Options

While it remained uncertain here Sunday whether there would be any formal investigation into the roots of the affair, government officials were reliably reported to be anxiously reviewing options for repairing the damage to Israeli-American relations that it has caused.

Characterizing that damage, a senior Israeli official told one American visitor Sunday that while the ties between the two nations remain strong, the "intimacy" has disappeared.

Because Pollard is Jewish, the case is also seen here as potentially damaging to other American Jews by raising suspicions in the minds of some about "dual loyalty."

"They cannot leave us in the dark about this--not any more," Communications Minister Amnon Rubenstein said of the country's top leaders. "To place, or to agree that an Israeli spy should be placed, in the heart of the defense Establishment of the superpower that is friendly to us and to endanger U.S. Jews--whoever decided on this is deficient in his decision-making ability. And I'm speaking in understatement."

Rubenstein, who was one of the three ministers who formally introduced the unscheduled debate at Sunday's regular meeting of the full Israeli Cabinet, said that while security considerations may make it impossible to disclose all the details of the affair, the government must be told who was responsible.

Senior statesman Abba Eban, chairman of the Knesset (Parliament) Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, agreed that the Pollard affair had gone too far to be ignored. Referring to Shamir's opposition to an official investigation, Eban commented: "It's quite unrealistic to think you can get away without an inquiry."

Eban characterized the prime minister as among those people who "have kind of an endemic resistance to any kind of exposure." He added: "But exposure of difficulties and failures is the very essence of democracy."

'Cooperated Fully'

Shamir contended that there is no point in conducting an inquiry because nothing has changed since the affair was originally exposed with Pollard's arrest in November, 1985. He noted that Israel had admitted its mistake and contended that it "cooperated fully" with U.S. investigators.

American officials were allowed to come here last year to interview four Israelis named as unindicted co-conspirators in the Pollard affair. However, investigators say that the four tried to hide Sella's role and that subsequent attempts to interrogate him were unsuccessful.

Responding to what it saw as Israeli stonewalling, a federal grand jury in Washington last week indicted Sella for conspiring with Pollard to steal U.S. defense secrets. It was the first time that a high-ranking official of an American ally has been formally accused of espionage against the United States.

The U.S. government has also banned contact by American officials with Sella.

Responding to U.S. news reports that Defense Minister Yitzhak Rabin had prevented Sella from giving evidence, the Defense Ministry issued a statement Sunday night saying that Sella had been given the go-ahead to talk with U.S. investigators on condition that he be granted the same immunity from prosecution that the other four Israelis enjoyed. However, according to the statement, "the United States refused."

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