Israel has now apologized guardedly ("to the extent that it did take place") for running an American spy in the United States. In a statement that was a long time coming, it promised that "if the allegations are confirmed, those responsible will be brought to account." The confirmation is evidently to be left to an internal government inquiry, not to an independent one. In the statement, no specific assurances were given that the United States would retrieve stolen documents or interrogate two Israelis with diplomatic immunity who left the United States last week before American officials could question them -- although side assurances have since been reported on both counts.

Secretary of State George Shultz called it an "excellent statement." Certainly it serves the purpose of minimizing frictions between the United States and Israel and curtailing the possibility of further disclosures potentially embarrassing to both. But the statement leaves much unsaid. Unless damaging popular suspicions are to be fed, the follow-up will have to be much more inclusive.

The Israelis evidently feel that the fuller, more independent and public the inquiry, the greater the chances of damage to the unity of its government as well as to the reputation of Israel and to the standing of its intelligence. The United States has another, conflicting set of interests: finding out what happened, who is responsible for it, how severe the security damage is and how comprehensive and widespread the Israeli operation was.

Spying on the United States, said the Israeli statement, "stands in total contradiction to our policy." Well, now -- that's not quite right either. The two countries have their own reasons for spying on each other plenty; these have nothing to do with their being friends and everything to do with the way each defines its security needs. But there is good reason to keep the forms of spying consistent with shared notions of propriety and common cause.

In the Pollard operation, there was a loss of balance. Whether this was the work of a complicitous government or an uncontrolled rogue operator is interesting to Israelis and Americans in different ways. If an American passed secrets to the Israelis, he committed a serious crime. If Israelis conducted an intrusive intelligence operation, they committed a serious breach of the code of respect that ought to bind the two countries. That is what the Pollard affair is about.