Israeli officials today began a counteroffensive in the Jonathan Pollard espionage case, charging that the U.S. Justice Department is waging what one official called a "malevolent" anti-Israel campaign to obfuscate its own counterintelligence inadequacies.
The government has restricted itself in official statements to reiterating that the Pollard case was an "aberration" and involved nothing more than a renegade spy ring operated without political sanction. Senior officials, however, have begun stepping up their anonymous criticism of what they called orchestrated Justice Department leaks intended to portray Israeli spying activities as far more extensive than Israeli officials insist they are.
One senior Foreign Ministry official, after talking with Foreign Minister Yitzhak Shamir, said he had recommended "going public" with a strong counteroffensive to rebut allegations that the Israeli government had lied about the extent of the espionage activities when a joint Justice-State Department team visited here last year.
"People are exploiting our silence. Our silence stems from the fact that we reached an agreement with the U.S. State Department that both sides had cooperated fully and that the matter was essentially over," said the senior official, speaking on condition that he not be identified.
He was referring to a Dec. 20, 1985, State Department communique saying that Israel had cooperated fully with U.S. law enforcement officials in disclosing its role in the Pollard affair.
The official said he had sought to convince Shamir that a more forceful response to the allegations of a wider Israeli conspiracy was needed.
However, the official, and sources in the office of Prime Minister Shimon Peres, said no consideration was being given to making public any allegations of espionage activities conducted in Israel by the United States.
The Hebrew daily newspaper Davar, which is affiliated with the national trade union federation Histadrut, today quoted a "high" government official as saying that if leaks in Washington over the Israeli spying operation continue, the Peres government will consider disclosing details of U.S. espionage activities uncovered in recent years by Israeli counterintelligence and then covered up by mutual agreement between Washington and Jerusalem. The newspaper provided no specifics.
"We aren't considering any such thing. It would be totally counter-productive," a senior Israeli government official said.
He said, however, that there was growing resentment in the Foreign Ministry, in the office of the prime minister and in the intelligence community over what is perceived here as a calculated attempt by some U.S. Justice Department officials to exaggerate Israeli espionage activities in the United States.
One senior official singled out U.S. Attorney Joseph E. diGenova as a source of the leaks detailing the extent of the Israeli operation, saying, "diGenova wants to stick it to Israel. He opposed the Pollard plea bargaining from the very beginning because he wanted to cash in on the publicity that a sensational trial would bring him. Now he is trying to make the case bigger than it is. He's enjoying the limelight . . . Who knows? Maybe it will get him elected to the Senate."
Efforts to reach diGenova Friday were unsuccessful.
The Israeli official said that the White House, the State Department and the Pentagon have remained "very much against inflaming the situation because they are convinced that, essentially, everything that is going to come out has already come out."
The official characterized as "unimportant details" the disclosures that Aviram Sella, an Israeli Air Force colonel doing graduate study at New York University at the time, was Pollard's alleged contact in the United States in 1984 when the former U.S. Navy civilian intelligence analyst passed secret documents to Israel; that an Israeli secretary, identified as Irit Erb, was utilized in photocopying stolen documents, and that Pollard had been promised, according to the U.S. District Court summary of the case, $300,000 over a 10-year period for his espionage activities.
Sella, since promoted to brigadier general, currently is the commander of the Rimon Air Force Base in the Negev Desert. Israeli officials today would not comment on Sella's alleged role in the Pollard case. Attempts to contact Sella were unsuccessful.
"Whether three people were involved, or four people were involved, or even five people were involved is without importance. The point is that the moment we admitted that the operation occurred, and said that we had dismantled the operation and that it was not sanctioned by official policy, these details are not important," a senior Israeli official said in an interview.