Convicted spy Jonathan Jay Pollard gave Israel top secret U.S. intelligence on the Soviet Union, and Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir approved passing on some of the most important information to the Soviets, according to a new book by investigative reporter Seymour M. Hersh.

Pollard was sentenced to life in prison in 1987, in part because of a secret affidavit by then-Defense Secretary Caspar W. Weinberger that described the damage his disclosures caused. In its public court documents relating to Pollard's trial, the U.S. government did not allege that the Navy terrorism analyst passed Israel any classified documents about Soviet military programs or that Israel passed such information to the Soviets.

The book, "The Samson Option," is about the development of the Israeli nuclear weapons program. Hersh writes that part of Israel's atomic arsenal is targeted at the Soviet Union and that Pollard was recruited in 1981 -- three years earlier than the espionage charges alleged -- to help get intelligence about those targets.

"The nuclear targeting data supplied by Pollard included top secret American intelligence on the location of Soviet military targets, as well as specific data on the Soviet means for protecting those targets, by concealment and hardening of the sites," the book says.

Pollard also provided the Israelis with information on Soviet air defenses, a copy of the CIA's top secret analysis of Soviet nuclear weapons programs, and codes of U.S. diplomatic communications, the book says. "Some of the most important Pollard documents were retyped and sanitized by Israeli intelligence officials and then made available to the Soviet Union as a gesture of Israeli goodwill, at the specific instructions of Yitzhak Shamir, a longtime advocate of closer Israeli-Soviet ties," it says.

Ruth Yaron, spokeswoman for the Israel Embassy, said last night she had not read the book, but called the charge that Shamir ordered Pollard's information passed to the Soviet Union "total nonsense."

In the book, Hersh quotes an anonymous senior U.S. intelligence official as saying there have been losses of human and technical intelligence capability inside the Soviet Union attributed to Pollard. "The Israeli objective {in the handling of Pollard} was to let the Soviets know that they have a strategic capability -- for their survival and to get their people out {of the Soviet Union}," he quotes one former CIA official as saying.

"Where it hurts us is our agents being rolled up and our ability to collect technical intelligence being shut down. When the Soviets found out what's being passed" -- in the documents supplied by Pollard to the Israelis -- "they shut down the source."

Joseph E. diGenova, who led the Pollard prosecution team as U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia, said yesterday he could "neither confirm nor deny" what Hersh's book says about transmission of U.S. secrets from Israel to the Soviet Union.

But he said there is information in the public court record that belies the claim of Pollard supporters, who have been trying to get his sentence reduced, that he only spied for an ally to help it protect itself from Arab enemies and did not harm U.S. security.

"The public pleadings and other public documents indicate the government knew Pollard had been specifically tasked to get unique and extremely sensitive documents and other technical data," diGenova said. "In addition, the public record says, although only generally, that his spying involved other than Arab countries and that it involved highly -- underscore highly -- technical information involving sources and methods as well as human intelligence."

The classified submissions in the case, he added, "dealt with the nature and extent of the damage to the United States. It was grave and incalculable."

One source for Hersh's assertions about the Pollard case was Ari Ben-Menashe, a self-described Israeli intelligence operative who has been the source of other allegations about Israeli relations with Iran and the United States.

Ben-Menashe's allegations have been rebutted in court documents by the Israeli government, which described him as a low-level translator. In his book, Hersh writes that Ben-Menashe's account of Shamir passing on American intelligence to the Soviets "might seem almost too startling to be believed, had it not been subsequently amplified by a second Israeli, who cannot be named."

Hersh is a Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter who, as a freelancer, wrote the first account of the My Lai massacre of South Vietnamese civilians by U.S. troops. As a New York Times reporter, he broke stories of CIA spying on U.S. citizens and other major exposes. He has written books on Henry A. Kissinger and the 1983 shooting down of a Korean airliner that strayed over Soviet territory.