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Jewish Journal

Did Feith Cross the Pro-Israel Line?

by Leonard Fein

September 30, 2004 | 8:00 pm

However the sordid facts play out in the current FBI investigation of a senior Pentagon analyst's alleged spying on Israel's behalf, they raise a raft of nettlesome questions -- and memories.

Recall, for example, that the heart of Jonathan Pollard's self-justification was that he passed on to Israel information regarding Iraq's evolving capabilities for hurting Israel; information to which Pollard claims Israel was entitled, but to his knowledge was not being shared with Israel.

Intelligence sharing between America and Israel goes on at the highest levels and is remarkably intimate -- but it is not, nor can it be supposed it ever will or even should be, complete. Each nation, sometimes for good reason, sometimes for bad, shares what it knows -- or thinks it knows -- selectively. In the case at hand, the classified information that was allegedly passed on to Israel was less about Iranian capabilities, more about America's assessments and intentions. Providing Israel with that kind of secret information is an invitation to the Israelis to focus their diplomatic efforts on persuading America to alter its course -- whether by force of argument or by adding new "intelligence," actual or manufactured, to the shared mix.

Over the years, my own inquiries into the Pollard case have included conversations with people intimately familiar with the entire body of evidence. I am persuaded that what is publicly known regarding Pollard's betrayal is only a part of its extent. But Pollard himself, miserable though he might be, languishes in his cell not only because of his crimes but also because of Israel's inadequate response to those crimes. In the aftermath of Pollard, Israel solemnly undertook to make available to the Americans the full dossier regarding what Pollard had stolen and transmitted to his Israeli handler. This undertaking was not honored, and the consequent resentment lingers -- and may account for the FBI's sudden leak of the latest allegations .

In the days ahead, we will perhaps learn whether the America-Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) was, as is alleged by the FBI tattlers, involved. One hopes it was not, lest AIPAC be found to have damaged itself beyond repair, and the Jewish community therefore be required to invent and laboriously build a new lobbying capability to replace it. As a general rule, it would be a mistake to count AIPAC out this early, not only because the allegations are, for the time being, merely allegations, but also because AIPAC is remarkably resilient. Still, there are not a few people in Washington who would delight in an AIPAC rendered at last more modest, if not downright ruined.

The far more serious threat presented by the unfolding scandal goes to the question of involvement by the pro-Israel community in shaping American Middle East policy. One can be "pro-Israel," however defined, as part of a general theory of American Middle East interests. If one honestly believes, for example, that Iraq can be transformed into a democracy, or even just a law-abiding state, and that such a transformation would create a domino effect throughout the region -- rather fantastical beliefs, but just this side of utterly preposterous -- then the fact that such a development would be "good for Israel" is an incidental benefit. If, however, one begins with a pro-Israel commitment and from that backs into a policy that calls for an American "war of liberation" in Iraq, that's another matter entirely. The distinction between the two approaches is sometimes difficult to make -- but it is a distinction with a very considerable difference.

There has been a steady undercurrent of concern in the current war on Iraq regarding the central role in the rationale and run-up to the war played by so-called Jewish intellectuals in and near the Bush administration -- principally, in Dick Cheney's office and in Donald Rumsfeld's. In the current case, Larry Franklin, the alleged wrongdoer, is a colonel in the U.S. Air Force Reserve who served in the past as an attaché at the U.S. embassy in Israel; he works for Douglas Feith, undersecretary of defense for policy and a leading proponent of America's war on Iraq. Feith, who together with Richard Perle, David Wurmser and Meyrav Wurmser, were the key authors of a 1996 briefing paper for then Prime Minister-elect Benjamin Netanyahu, "A Clean Break: A New Strategy for Securing the Realm," was critical of Israel's 1978 peace with Egypt and opposed Oslo, Wye and every other agreement remotely based on "land for peace" or a "two-state solution." The 1996 paper fully reflects that opposition; it calls for a far more aggressive American policy toward both Saddam Hussein and Syria. Feith himself (whose name has repeatedly surfaced in connection with the scandals at Abu Ghreib prison) is one of those connected insiders who seem to outlast scandal (Elliot Abrams being the current poster boy for that talent) and, largely hidden from public view, exercise outsized influence on affairs of state.

As the United States now stumbles its way toward a coherent policy regarding Iran, with the awesome dangers that an ill-chosen policy would involve, it becomes critically important that we know for a fact that government policy has been developed exclusively on the basis of America's perceived interests. That cannot, however, come to mean that American Jews, presumptively pro-Israel, are inherently ineligible to participate in such policy formulation or even that they be subjected to more stringent controls. Yet if, in their right-wing, pro-Israel zealotry, Feith or any of the others have in any way suggested to their aides that the sharing of classified information with Israel is acceptable, that is a plausible outcome of this mess. Pro-Israel? Hardly.

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