JERUSALEM — The Israeli official who headed the espionage operation that bought U.S. military secrets from Jonathan Jay Pollard broke his silence Wednesday and said he acted with approval from his superiors.
The statement by Rafael (Rafi) Eitan conflicted with parliamentary findings that the Pollard case was a "rogue operation" conducted without the knowledge or approval of senior government figures.
Eitan was head of the secret Israeli espionage unit--known by its Hebrew acronym, Lekem--that supervised Pollard's spy activities. He spoke for the first time about the affair during an interview on Israel radio in which he said he felt "responsible for my activities but not guilty."
Refuses to Give Names
"In all my activities, I did not act without approval," Eitan said. He refused to say which supervisors had approved his actions.
A court in Washington sentenced Pollard, an American Jew and former U.S. Navy civilian intelligence analyst, to life in prison in March for selling U.S. military secrets to Israel. His wife, Anne Henderson-Pollard, received a five-year sentence for helping him.
Eitan's remarks provoked anger among legislators who investigated the Pollard case and who concluded in May that Israel's political leaders did not know about the spy operation.
"We determined unanimously that Rafi Eitan carries full and direct responsibility for the decision to recruit Pollard," said Simcha Dinitz, a Labor party member of the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, which conducted the probe.
"He did not report to his superiors or receive any approval," Dinitz told Israel radio.
Leftist legislator Ran Cohen, also a member of the Parliament's Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, said he would demand a clarification from Defense Minister Yitzhak Rabin about who approved Eitan's actions.
"Eitan clearly says he acted with approval and permission in all aspects of this affair, which caused so much damage to Israel," Cohen said. "The Israeli public . . . must know who is truly responsible for spoiling relations with the United States."
The Pollard case badly strained U.S.-Israeli relations and prompted expressions of concern from U.S. Jewish groups.
After it came to light, officials in Washington were angered by what were seen as rewards for Eitan and Col. Aviem Sella, the Israeli air force officer indicted by a U.S. court for recruiting Pollard and subsequently promoted by Israel to head a prestigious air base.
Sella resigned the post after the U.S. government banned officials from visiting the base.
Eitan, who left the Defense Ministry soon after the arrest of the Pollards in November, 1985, was given a position as chairman of Israel Chemicals Co., the largest state-owned corporation.
Eitan said Wednesday that he regretted the damage to U.S.-Israeli relations caused by the spy case.
"I was sorry then, and I am sorry now," Eitan said. "The United States is our friendliest ally, and we must expend every effort to repair our relations."