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Israel Denies Spying on United States - 2004-08-29

Israel says it is not spying on the United States. The FBI is investigating whether a Pentagon official passed classified information to an Israeli lobby group in America that, in turn, passed it on to Israel.

The official Israeli response to the spy assertion was a firm denial of any involvement in the case. A statement from Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's office late Saturday night said the government was not aware of the incident. The statement said, "Israel is not employing any intelligence assets in the United States."

That position was elaborated on by Yuval Steinetz, chairman of the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee in the Israeli parliament. He said Israel decided to halt all espionage activities against the United States following the arrest and conviction of Jonathan Pollard, who was caught passing secrets to Israel nearly 20 years ago.

"Since [the] Pollard case there was clear and firm decision not to spy against the United States government or in the United States, and therefore I am 100 percent confident that there is no Israeli involvement in this case," he said.

The 1985 arrest of Jonathan Pollard was a diplomatic bombshell whose repercussions are still being felt. Pollard, a formal naval intelligence analyst, has become an Israeli citizen since his arrest, conviction and imprisonment for spying, and several Israeli governments have campaigned without success to get him released.

The current case involves allegations that Larry Franklin, an official in the Pentagon's Near East and South Asia bureau, passed on information to Israel via the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) lobby group. The FBI investigation has been under way for more than a year and centers on allegations that Mr. Franklin passed on information from sensitive deliberations on Iran at a time when the Bush administration policy had not been fully formulated.

Both Israel and the United States are concerned about Iran's nuclear capability. The Israeli media have speculated that a recent drill conducted here in which anti-radiation pills were handed out to Israeli citizens is part of a campaign to build the argument that Iran poses a growing and increasingly imminent nuclear threat.

On Sunday, Israeli media attention to the FBI probe was extensive. Israel Radio quoted unnamed government sources as denying anyone at the Pentagon was spying for Israel.

Marvin Grenfell, a professor of political science at Hebrew University, agrees that it does not seem likely that Israel would risk damaging relations with its most important ally by spying on it.

"My guess is that Israel, following the Pollard Affair, would not risk anything like that again," he said. "And that probably this has been blown out of proportion, possibly by some people in the United States."

That position was taken in a front-page story in Sunday's English language Jerusalem Post. The story, which was typical of nearly all Israeli newspapers, quoted what it described simply as "sources" in Jerusalem as saying the spying allegations are nothing more than an "internal US political story." "This is an American political story, an elections story, a pre-convention story to try to slander and criticize Bush. It has nothing to do with us," the source is quoted as saying.