- The Washington Times - Saturday, January 8, 2005

The latest Washington spy tale, involving Larry Franklin, an intelligence analyst at the Defense Department, and some of Israel’s most important lobbyists in America, is becoming deeper by the week.

Spy stories are always like that. But this is an intricate tale of a trusted ally betraying America, a White House intent on using the event to leverage influence, and a U.S. intelligence community that feels it has been made to wear horns.

Clearly Israel has aroused the formidable bull and will have to pay a price. One can speculate from what we already know.

It started in late July this year, when a Catholic Pentagon analyst, Mr. Franklin, telephoned a Jewish acquaintance who worked at a pro-Israel lobbying group, the very influential American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC).

The two men knew each other professionally. They spoke of U.S. policies on Iran and Iraq periodically. That call was monitored by U.S. intelligence, which did not like what it heard, and sparked events including an investigation of passing secret intelligence information to Israel via intermediaries.

A report by the Jewish Telegraphic Agency (JTA) last week said things have got to the point where a grand jury investigation is under way and may lead to the indictment of several prominent Jewish lobbyists on charges of passing secret information to Israel.

Other reports and leaks in the U.S. media suggest Mr. Franklin has been singing like a canary under questioning and has agreed to deliver facts and testimony against pro-Israeli lobbyist friends in return for lenient treatment.

Still more reports suggest he was all along a plant, a tool, used by the intelligence community to ensnare the Israelis and their network of spies among the vast community of 52 American Jewish organizations totally devoted to controlling U.S. Middle East policies for Israel’s benefit.

The JTA report speaks of some serious damage already done. It says: “With senior officials at America’s top pro-Israel organization facing the specter of federal indictments, staffers at other groups are beginning to waver in their support and are warning that the mounting legal scandal could damage the political credibility of the entire Jewish community.”

You see, there is an iron-clad agreement Israel shall never spy on its best friend and greatest financial backer in the world, America, particularly as U.S. intelligence cooperates broadly with Israeli intelligence for free.

But whenever greed and hubris take over, Israelis have got themselves and their friends in trouble. With this particular White House, which takes no prisoners, the price demanded of Israel may be some concession to the Palestinians.

Immediately after his re-election, Mr. Bush said he had “accumulated enough capital” in his first term that he will use in his second term to push the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.

He may have been hinting in part, friends in the intelligence community tell me, at the “Franklin” affair.

Mr. Bush does not need an outcome to this investigation. He just needs a process whereby accusations keep hanging in the air, while he demands to cash in his capital. President Bush is like that. He plays hard, even with friends. Even with Israel.

As usual, Israel denies all charges. That is a mistake because, in espionage and state affairs, it is very important to manage a catastrophe, not go into denial.

At the moment, the U.S. intelligence community — including the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Central Intelligence Agency, the National Security Agency and other counterspying organizations — are going in for a kill, knowing their president needs to hold cards in hand against friends and foes. This is also payback time, especially as the Israelis are again caught with their hands inside top-secret U.S. files.

The fierce response was demonstrated in 1985, when Jonathan Pollard, a Jewish-American naval intelligence analyst, was arrested. He was crying like a baby at the gate of the Israeli Embassy in Washington, D.C. Pollard had been an Israeli agent, meeting with Israeli handlers for years and supplying super-secret documents from naval intelligence. When caught, and seeking refuge with his wife, the Israelis would not even open the door for him. He was dragged away screaming and kicking, with his wife, to jail.

Pollard is now serving a life sentence without parole as a spy. Two American presidents, Bill Clinton and the current George Bush, have firmly rejected repeated Israeli and Jewish lobby requests for his pardon. The U.S. intelligence community has said, “No way.” Scores of petitions and Web sites offering daily support and calls for a pardon have made no dent in this seemingly iron will. And intelligence sources, to make sure Pollard stays in jail, periodically leak reminders to their media friends that he did irreparable harm to vital U.S. interests.

The real message to Israel and its supporters is: “Thou shall not spy against America.” It seems the same message is being delivered now in the Franklin affair to American Jewish organizations.

But the episode also seems to have become a bargaining chip the White House and intelligence community will squeeze like a lemon to get Israeli concessions with the full support from a chastised American Jewish lobby. If no such support is forthcoming, the administration seems to signal more investigations — a trial, indictments etc.

Stay tuned.

YOUSSEF M. IBRAHIM

Mr. Ibrahim, a former Middle East correspondent for the New York Times and energy editor of the Wall Street Journal, wrote this article for United Press International.

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