The Israeli government expressed its "shock and consternation" tonight over reports linking Israel to a civilian U.S. Navy intelligence analyst arrested and charged with providing secret U.S. documents to a foreign country.
The statement, the first formal Israeli reaction to the arrest of Jonathan J. Pollard outside the Israeli Embassy in Washington on Thursday, indicated that the government would take action against any Israelis involved if the reports prove to be correct.
Today's statement for the first time obliquely raised the possibility that there may have been Israeli involvement in the incident, despite Israel's stated policy of not conducting any intelligence activity in the United States.
On Friday, an Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman had said, "We don't have the slightest idea about this matter."
Two sources familiar with the case told Washington Post staff writer Joe Pichirallo in Washington that after Pollard learned last week that the FBI had him under investigation, he got in touch with an unidentified Israeli official in Washington and asked for help.
The sources said that the Israeli official knew Pollard and told him that he would try to help him if he could elude the FBI agents watching him.
One source in Washington described the sequence of events this way: "When the FBI confronted him, he said he would cooperate so they started to roll him . . . . Then all of a sudden he made contact with an Israeli intelligence agent or an embassy official and said, 'The FBI is on to me.' " The response from the Israeli official was something to the effect, "If you shake your surveillance, we'll see what we can do," the source said.
Both sources declined to disclose how investigators knew Pollard had made the contact. Other knowledgeable U.S. officials told Pichirallo that court-authorized telephone wiretaps are common in espionage cases, and these officials speculated that the FBI may have monitored Pollard's telephone conversations last week.
One non-Israeli here, who spoke on the condition that he and his nationality not be identified, called the affair a "huge, self-inflicted wound" and likened it in its potential public relations damage to the Israeli attack on the USS Liberty, an American intelligence ship, at the outset of the 1967 war.
In an official statement tonight, Israel's Foreign Ministry said that the alleged espionage would be in "total contradiction" of Israeli government policy.
Because of the "close and special relationship" between Israel and the United States, the statement said, it has been Israel's policy to refrain from "any intelligence activity related to the United States."
It added: "A thorough examination is being undertaken to determine whether there has been a deviation of any kind from this policy. Should such a deviation be found to have occurred, then necessary conclusions shall be drawn."
In the Israeli political lexicon, "drawing necessary conclusions" usually means the dismissal of public officials, and senior Israeli officials said that any official engaged in unauthorized intelligence operations would be disciplined.
Senior Israeli sources said both Prime Minister Shimon Peres and the Foreign Ministry are deeply worried over the damage to Israel's image with the U.S. public and Congress if the allegations are proved correct.
Pollard, who was an employe of the Naval Intelligence Service, reportedly had boasted of an association with Israeli intelligence in the past, according to friends.
Several non-Israeli sources here, who insisted that their nationality not be identified, emphasized the apparent inconsistency of the idea of Israel engaging Pollard to pass it intelligence information because of the already extensive and longstanding cooperation between U.S. and Israeli intelligence organizations, formalized by the 1981 Strategic Cooperation Agreement between the two countries.
Informed sources here said that while the United States supplies large quantities of intelligence to Israel, it does not give Israel everything.
But they say that Pollard's access to information did not appear, at least as far as is now known, to cover those areas in which Israel is lacking information.
One official said that if, as reported, Pollard worked with Navy counterterrorism intelligence, "it's a joke to think that Israel would not be getting what it wanted. That's one area where they are getting all they need."
In areas where the United States holds back some "raw intelligence" from Israel -- presumably involving satellite photo intelligence on Arab countries friendly to Washington -- sources say it still provides Israel with its "best judgment" on those intelligence matters.
News reports that Pollard passed to Israel secret codes of the U.S. 6th Fleet in the Mediterranean that would give it access to information gleaned from U.S. spy and communications satellites have not been confirmed here.
Sources here said that both the U.S. and Israeli governments were trying to deal with what is clearly an embarrassing situation for Israel in a way that leaves a minimum of long-term "scars," as one official put it.
Thus far, these sources say, they believe the situation is being handled well by Israel but that the true extent and political explosiveness in the United States of Pollard's activities will only be known when the FBI and other agencies in both countries are able to verify in what activities he was engaged.