Everything is possible in the world of espionage, and even the most unrealistic scenarios turn out to be true sometimes. But even the imaginary scenarios have limits.
Since the Pollard affair in 1986, all of Israel's prime ministers and heads of the intelligence communities were strict about not spying on US soil or against American interests, even when the temptation and size of the intelligence prey were very big. The Israeli Embassy in Washington even made itself accessible to American officials to install listening devices there, in order to prove that such espionage had stopped.
The scene described by Newsweek of the agent warming the toilet seat at Al Gore's suite, and about the Israeli in the vent, makes no sense even for a much more prosaic reason: Why should the Shin Bet act that way? After the all, the location of the suite the vice president is about to stay in is known some time in advance, and numerous listening devices and surveillance cameras can be installed in it even before the agents arrive. The days in which there was a need to physically keep someone in the vent in order to listen to what is happening in the room are long gone.
The Newsweek report doesn’t even make the dramatic distinction between a hosting country spying on the actions of a hosted country – an activity considered visible and legitimate – and the operation of espionage tools on the territory of the friendly country, like in the Pollard affair. The US knows very well that Israel, for example, listens in on the internal calls of the US Embassy in Tel Aviv. Israel is not ashamed of that.
Newsweek also describes situations lacking any location name or date, in which Israeli officials allegedly attempted to create honey traps for American officials visit Israel, including by offering drugs. It's unlikely that such an aggressive and amateurish move, which is more reminiscent of the KGB methods from the 1960s, was indeed carried out by official Israeli elements.
The general claim arising from the Newsweek report is that Israel is favored by the United States over other countries when it comes to espionage matters. That Israel is the only country that gets away with it. But this claim doesn't carry much weight based on the history of the relations between the two countries in the past 30 years.
Since Pollard was caught, FBI officials have tried to rehash marginal affairs from within the affair in order to keep it alive. In a very controversial series of incidents, the Federal Bureau of Investigation even tried to create new Israeli espionage affairs out of nothing.
The conclusion is that since the Pollard affair they are particularly strict with Israel, not lenient. Not at all.
Jeff Stein and Newsweek are a very respectable journalist and media outlet. There is no doubt that they are correctly quoting what they heard from senior officials in the American intelligence. All this leads to the really intriguing question: What is the purpose of the leaks made to the magazine?
The explanation raised last week was the opposition against granting Israelis visa-free entry, but it is not at all certain that that is the real reason. We should actually pay attention to the coincidence between the series of leaks and the frequent talks about Jonathan Pollard's possible release.
It's true that the peace talks have collapsed for now and there is no release deal in the immediate time frame. But it is very possible that American intelligence officials who cannot be suspected of favoring Israel are now engaging in a counterattack with a clear bottom line: Jerusalem has not learned its lesson and is still acting aggressively against Washington – and therefore Pollard should be kept in jail as a continuation of the punishment and deterrence campaign.