Israel's attorney general today ordered the national police to begin an investigation of a "prima facie" violation of the state secrets act by a correspondent of the Washington Star and Time magazine for publishing the name of the chief of the secret security service.

It would be the first time a journalist was prosecuted under an espionage statute of the secrets act. Conviction carries a prison sentence of up to 15 years.

Attorney General Yitzhak Zamir said the correspondent, David Halevy, who is currently in the United States on leave of absence from Time magazine, would be investigated "in preparation of an indictment" on charges of passing secret government information without authorization.

In a dispatch filed from Israel last week, Halevy, an Israeli citizen, reported that the head of the General Security Services (Shin Bet) had resigned in protest because Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin obstructed the investigation into the planting of Bombs in the cars of three West Bank mayors on June 2.

[The story, appearing in the Washington Star last Thursday, identified the head of the Israeli security services as Avraham Achituv, 54.]

Nablus Mayor Bassam Shaka lost both legs and Ramallah Mayor Karim Khalaf lost a foot in the bombings, which ultranationalist Jewish civilian settlers living in the West Bank are thought to have carried out.

While denying the substance of Halevy's report as a "total fabrication," government officials today stressed that the issue being considered for possible criminal prosecution is the publication of the security chief's name.

Identities of security and intelligence officials are never officially disclosed in Israel, and the names of Shin Bet officials are particularly guarded because of the danger to them and their families, according to Dan Pattir, Begin's spokesman.

The issue has become controversial in the West Bank because several Palestinian leaders and members of their families have maintained that the Security Service were giving only token attention to the case and had not even interviewed Shaka, Khalaf or any of their relatives.

Halevy, in interviews published in Israeli newspapers, denied allegations by several government officials that his charges against Begin were politically motivated and stemmed from Haley's long association with the opposition Labor Party. He said he never was a member of the Labor Party.