The new espionage affair, the “Kadish Affair,” will apparently not cause grave damage to the Israel-US relationship over time - not only because it took place and ended almost a generation ago, but mostly because it is in fact an extension of the Pollard Affair, over which Israel had already apologized officially and openly, and which had been beaten to death by the US media.
The US Justice Department’s indictment clearly indicates that engineer Ben Ami Kadish was handled by the same Israeli intelligence organization – the LAKAM (Hebrew acronym for Bureau of Scientific Relations) – that handled Pollard. From the 1960s to the 1980s, this organization was in charge of acquiring technological military know-how and strategic substances worldwide, particularly pertaining to the nuclear sphere. It is no wonder that LAKAM’s people reached Kadish, a good Jew who wanted to assist Israel in contending with the security threats it faced, and as opposed to Pollard did it without financial rewards.
Kadish was being utilized even before LAKAM’s relationship with Pollard began and ended before the FBI exposed Pollard in November 1985. Kadish’s handler according to the indictment was the “science attaché” at the Israeli consulate in New York, who was in fact a LAKAM member. The attaché, Yossi Yagur, was identified in media reports on the Pollard Affair at the time as complicit in handling him, but not directly so. He was among the Israeli diplomats who left the US in the wake of the affair.
Yet the fact that to a large extent takes the sting out of the latest affair is the decisive action undertaken by Jerusalem after LAKAM’s activity in the US was exposed. The Israeli government terminated LAKAM’s operations and dismantled the organization. More significantly, the government issued a sweeping and unequivocal order to all government ministries and intelligence bodies, banning any intelligence activity in the US. Moreover, all agencies operating on behalf of the Israeli government were forbidden to acquire or receive technological military know-how and purchase substances and systems without coordinating it with the American Administration and receiving a written permit on its behalf.
As far as we know, the Israeli intelligence community, Israeli diplomats, and representatives of our military industries strictly adhere to this order. Even at the height of embarrassing defense-related controversies that emerged since the 1980s between Israel and the US, such as the drones sold to China, the US Administration did not claim – and is not doing so now – that Israel is spying or stealing know-how and substances from the US.
Even if the Justice Department is able to prove, in a court of law, the veracity of the charges included in the indictment filed against Kadish, or even if Ben Ami himself confesses to the charges, Israel would be able to argue that it already did everything in its power to fix what needed fixing in order to prevent similar cases in the future. The Bush Administration, which sympathizes with Israel, will certainly not make a big deal out of the new affair, and the next Administration will also likely prefer not to inflate its implications.
Blatant carelessness?The ones who will attempt to exhaust the potential for slamming Israel inherent in the affair are Israel’s harsh critics, who are mostly active behind the scenes in the Pentagon, in the US intelligence community, and in the American academia. They will rush to note, for example, that Israel unequivocally declared, after the Pollard Affair was revealed, that this was a unique case. This claim was received with great skepticism by the American Administration.
Not only had the FBI argued that more American citizens spied for Israel in the US, but so did Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger and the prosecutor in Pollard’s trial. This suspicion was one of the main reasons why the American Administration demanded that Israel hand over all the documents and materials acquired by the LAKAM in the US. The Israeli government gave in to this demand and even allowed the Americans to question several Israelis who were involved in the affair. The Americans were unable to prove that other spies in addition to Pollard were utilized by Israel. However, the suspicions over this matter did not dissipate. In this context, it would be appropriate to note the Larry Franklin affair from a few years ago, where it turned out that the Pentagon official handed over sensitive information on Iran to AIPAC.
Senior US officials in the past 20 years argued in private conversations that the reason for the American intelligence community’s great objection to mitigating Pollard’s sentence and releasing him from prison is the fact that Israel failed to present the full extent of its espionage efforts in the US during the Pollard era. Now, if the charges against Kadish are proven, it will turn out that the abovementioned claims were correct: There was at least one more American citizen who was handled by the LAKAM.
Another bothersome aspect related to the “Kadish Affair” is the unknown reasons and circumstances that led to the exposure of the affair at this time of all times. The indictment does not include even a hint that would serve to answer questions such as:
-When did the FBI start suspecting the retired US Army engineer, whose loyalty and American patriotism jump out at you from his photographs in the American Legion uniform?
-Who provided the information that led to the launch of the investigation against Kadish or to its recent renewal?
-How was the incriminating evidence that supports the indictment acquired?
These are just a few of the questions that we, Israelis, are also not exempt from answering. In this context, it was already reported that Kadish maintained telephone contact with Yossi Yagur following the Pollard Affair, and to this day. This is a careless act that anyone who deals with espionage knows should be avoided. It was also reported that Kadish visited Israel and met with Yagur, and that recently Yagur instructed Kadish, during a transatlantic phone conversation, to deny his ties with Israel should he be questioned.
What led Yagur to suggest that Kadish conduct himself that way? Did Kadish tell him that he feels he has been identified and sought Yagur’s advice? If so, then this was a blatant case of carelessness. Both of them should have assumed that either Kadish’s or Yagur’s phone conversations were being monitored at the time. It is possible that this same phone conversation, detailed in the indictment, provided investigators with the ultimate proof.
Yet who provided the initial information regarding Kadish’s activity that led to the launch of the investigation? Did Kadish himself babble or boast about his deeds to a friend, who proceeded to snitch on him? Did Yagur mutter something at the wrong time and place? Or perhaps Pollard knew about Kadish
Everything is possible, and all these possibilities – and also the ones not raised here – are just as infuriating. More facts will certainly be revealed during Kadish’s trial, and then we shall all be wiser – although not necessarily relieved.