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Israel braces for fallout from US spy case

Israel is tightlipped over the arrest in the US of an 84-year-old American suspected of providing it with US military secrets in the 1980s.

world Updated: Apr 23, 2008 17:43 IST
Jeffrey Heller

Israel was tightlipped on Wednesday over the arrest in the United States of an 84-year-old American suspected of providing it with US military secrets in the 1980s, a new case that has opened old wounds.

"We received an official update from the Americans. We are following the developments," Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Arye Mekel said, a day after suspect Ben-Ami Kadish made an initial appearance in a federal court in New York.

The case, linked to the Jonathan Pollard spy scandal that has been an irritant in the US-Israel alliance, raised fears in Israel it would cast a pall over President George W Bush's visit next month to celebrate the Jewish state's 60th birthday.

Officials with inside knowledge in Israel of the country's intelligence services were not denying it may have had a second spy operating in the United States in parallel with Pollard, but they were insisting such espionage ceased long ago.

"The Americans know ... that since Pollard was exposed in 1985, Israel doesn't recruit agents or receive classified material (in) the United States," said Yuval Steinitz, a former chairman of the Israeli parliament's Foreign Affairs and Defence Committee.

But Danny Yatom, a legislator and a former head of Israel's Mossad intelligence agency, said the current affair had touched a nerve with Washington.

"I think what primarily bothers the Americans is the feeling that Israel didn't tell them the whole truth two decades ago, in 1985, when the Pollard affair exploded," Yatom told Israeli Army Radio.

"The Americans asked if there are additional people that Israel ran or are running in the United States. The answer, to the best of my knowledge, was always no," Yatom said.

Secrets

Ben-Ami, who was released on $300,000 bail, is a Connecticut-born US citizen who worked as a mechanical engineer at the Army's Picatinny Arsenal in Dover, New Jersey.

He was accused of giving Israel, from 1979 to 1985, secrets about nuclear weapons, fighter jets and missiles.

According to a federal complaint, Ben-Ami reported to the same Israeli handler who was also a main contact for Pollard, a US naval intelligence analyst arrested in 1985 and sentenced in 1987 to life imprisonment for spying for Israel.

Israel has said Pollard was recruited in a rogue operation by the since-disbanded Bureau of Scientific Relations, then headed by Rafi Eitan, who now serves as pensioners minister.

US authorities did not disclose what led to their discovery of Ben-Ami's suspected espionage.

But they said he had remained in contact with his alleged handler, who left the United States when Pollard was detained and has not returned.

"If what has been reported is true, and it appears it is true, and Ben-Ami Kadish kept in touch with what the Americans described as his old handler in Israel, I can call it unnecessary stupidity," Yatom said.