JERUSALEM — Two committees of inquiry investigating the Jonathan Jay Pollard spy scandal criticized the Israeli leadership Tuesday for its handling of the affair but said that top government officials did not know of Pollard's recruitment until after his arrest in the United States 18 months ago.
Both committees, concluding their separate investigations at the same time, recommended that the government increase its supervision of Israel's intelligence apparatus so that scandals like the one involving Pollard do not occur in the future.
The committees' findings thus supported the Israeli government's assertion, which had been widely questioned by the media here, that Pollard's recruitment to spy against the United States was an unauthorized operation run by lower-level officials who overstepped their authority.
The 10 members of the so-called inner Cabinet were summoned into special session Tuesday night to review a report from one of the committees, submitted earlier in the day to Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir by attorney Joshua Rotenstreich and a former army chief of staff, Zvi Zur.
The Cabinet appointed Rotenstreich and Zur to investigate the Pollard affair after the former U.S. Navy intelligence analyst was sentenced in Washington last March to life imprisonment for passing hundreds of top secret documents to Israel from 1984 until his arrest in November, 1985.
While the Rotenstreich report is still technically secret, details that were leaked to reporters indicated that it was sharply critical of Defense Minister Yitzhak Rabin and former Defense Minister Moshe Arens for failing to properly supervise the intelligence unit that recruited Pollard and ran his espionage activities.
But the report also found that neither Arens, who was defense minister at the time Pollard was recruited, nor Rabin, who succeeded Arens as defense minister, knew about Pollard's activities at the time. It said that Shamir and Foreign Minister Shimon Peres likewise did not know of these activities until after Pollard's arrest.
Knesset Gets Report
While the inner Cabinet met late into the night to consider the Rotenstreich report, a second committee--this one established by the Knesset, Israel's Parliament, and headed by former Foreign Minister Abba Eban--presented the results of its investigation into the Pollard affair to the Knesset.
Parts of that report were also secret, but Eban, briefing reporters on the portion that is being made public, said his seven-man committee also concluded that the political leadership was unaware of Pollard's recruitment.
However, he took issue with the government's assertion that the Pollard affair was nothing more than a "rogue" operation, and he said Israel should admit to having made a serious mistake.
"It was not a rogue operation," Eban said. "Even though the politicians didn't give permission or authorization, those who carried it out were civil servants who traveled, gave briefings and funded it with state money."
Both reports concluded that Pollard was supervised by two lower-level officials who have already been implicated publicly in the affair--Rafael Eitan, former head of the Mossad, the Israeli secret service, and Israeli air force Col. Aviem Sella.
Eitan headed the obscure Israeli intelligence organization that "ran" Pollard. Known by its Hebrew acronym, Lekem, the secret agency was originally established for the purpose of carrying out scientific and industrial espionage and was under the aegis of the Defense Ministry.
Sella, a much-decorated officer who was then on a study leave in the United States, has been identified as the man who recruited Pollard for Lekem.
While asserting that Israeli leaders had not been informed of Lekem's activities at the time, the Rotenstreich report criticized them for being ignorant of a major espionage operation, directed against Israel's closest ally and financial benefactor, and concluded that they were negligent in their duties, according to sources familiar with the report.
The report also criticized the way that Shamir, Peres and Rabin handled the scandal after Pollard's arrest and said they made insufficient attempts to uncover all the facts, the sources said.
Lekem was said to have been disbanded after Pollard's arrest, and Israel apologized to the United States. But Eitan was subsequently given a lucrative position as chairman of the giant state-owned Israeli Chemicals Corp., while Sella was appointed commander of the Tel Nof air base, one of the most prestigious commands in the Israeli air force.
The two promotions angered U.S. investigators, who wondered why two officials who conducted an unauthorized operation were being rewarded rather than punished.
Last March, after only three weeks in his new post, Sella resigned as Tel Nof's commander, citing as his reasons "the deterioration in Israel-U.S. relations and my concern for the future of ties between the two countries."
Many Israelis apparently believe that Sella and, to a lesser extent, Eitan, have been made scapegoats in the affair to cover up what political commentators and editorial writers have suggested must be higher-level involvement.
Whether the Rotenstreich and Eban committee reports will lay these suspicions to rest or merely reinforce them is not immediately clear.
The findings are expected to come in for some criticism by opposition legislators, who noted that both committees came to the same conclusions that the government wanted them to reach when they were established in the wake of Pollard's conviction.
Throughout its secretive deliberations, the Eban committee was portrayed by the Israeli media as being acrimoniously split along party lines, with the three members from Shamir's rightist Likud Bloc quarreling constantly with the three members from Peres' centrist Labor Alignment over which side should bear the most blame for the Pollard affair.