- The Washington Times - Monday, September 13, 2004

In these history-making times when the Laci Peterson killing got more air time than Iran’s or North Korea’s (and now South Korea’s) nuclear weapons program, the convergence of domestic and foreign interests is sometimes hard to discern. And this is where the FBI needs a little help.

Understanding the U.S.-Israeli relationship can be difficult if one thinks of Israel as a foreign country. Think of Israel as the 51st state, or as an integral part of the American body politic, and it’s no longer spying, or even influence-peddling; it’s family. One family member showing a close relative a secret document, or quoting from it over lunch, is not a prima facie case of spying. Nor can it be called a leak. Anymore than sharing with your brother a rival’s plan to undermine the family business is a leak.

This is the way Washington’s “Likudniks” view their relationship with the family patriarch, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, now 74. Mr. Sharon is not like any other head of government in the world. He has met nine times with President Bush. He also has close relatives in key command posts in the Pentagon. And he can count on them to derail policies whose linguini backbone would condemn Israel to a short shelf life.

Back in 1996, the same perception led three prominent American Likudniks to write a policy paper for then Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu titled, “Clean Break: A New Strategy for Securing the Realm.” The “realm” is Israel.

The clean break advocated was with the Oslo peace accords. Israel, they said, should not concede an inch of the West Bank to the Palestinians because it has been sacred Jewish soil from time immemorial; Saddam Hussein was to be removed from power and the Hashemite dynasty (that ruled Iraq until overthrown in 1958) restored; surrounding Arab autocracies and radical regimes were to be replaced with democracies.

The “White Paper” was sprinkled with references to “We in Israel” and “Our land,” written by American citizens.

Mr. Netanyahu’s successor, Mr. Sharon, adopted these recommendations by three close members of his family. Their judgment clearly would secure the realm against the machinations of rival Semite families (the Arab families biding their time while plotting to shorten Israel’s life). Israel surrounded by pro-American democracies could look forward to at least a generation of security. The 1996 document provided the strategic underpinnings for Operation Iraqi Freedom seven years later.

When President George W. Bush was elected, these same three Likudniks quickly found their way to key positions in the new administration: Richard Perle became chairman of the Defense Policy Board, a de facto Pentagon think tank where some 30 prestigious personalities are close friends of the family; Douglas Feith, was suddenly propelled to the No. 3 slot as defense undersecretary for policy; and David Wurmser, principal deputy assistant for national security to Vice President Dick Cheney.

Mr. Perle removed himself from the chairmanship of DPB over financial irregularities of which he was subsequently absolved. More recently, he has found himself again in financial hot water, accused of allegedly helping himself to $5 million from the $400 million that Lord Black, deposed Hollinger chairman, is accused of looting from his own company, which owns the Jerusalem Post. Mr. Feith is in everyone’s doghouse because he stands accused of delusions of adequacy by failing to plan Iraq’s postwar policy and to anticipate the widely predicted insurgency. He is also the strategic brain that recommended invading Iraq, not Afghanistan, after September 11, 2001. Because, as he attempted to justify his cunning strategic ploy 2 years after September 11, we would have caught the enemy by surprise by attacking a country not involved in September 11. Oops, my mistake. The Likudniks argued all along there was a seamless connection between Hezbollah, Hamas, Islamic Jihad, Baghdad, and al Qaeda. This was how Mr. Sharon and his American family convinced President Bush his war on terror is identical to Israel’s war on terror.

Mr. Feith, who has 1,500 people working for him at the Pentagon, was also the Likudnik whose Office of Special Plans cherry-picked and then shaded intelligence to make the case for war on Iraq. At least so say senior folk at the CIA and even at the Defense Intelligence Agency, albeit off the record.

The invasion and occupation of Iraq made the family’s view a self-fulfilling prophecy and Iraq is now a global magnet for wannabe Islamist terrorists. This sealed Mr. Sharon’s seamless argument.

So what is the FBI to make of AIPAC, the American Israel Public (Political) Affairs (Action) Committee? Arguably the most powerful lobby in Washington, it once was a support group for any Israeli government in power. The recent perception is its members now lean rightward and are part of the Likud family. In any event, they are trusted intermediaries. And discussions of drafts Bush administration positions on Iran or anywhere else in the geopolitical neighborhood are not considered secret even when rubber-stamped “Top Secret.” After all, some 3,000 civil servants have the right to stamp documents any way they want. So the most secret stamp simply makes the document juicier for restaurant conversations.

As the FBI has already discovered, sticking one’s snout in Likud family affairs can be injurious to one’s professional health, witness the pressure already encountered from U.S. Attorney Paul J. McNulty whose Northern Virginia jurisdiction handles major spy cases in Washington. The family presumably organized the leak that punctured the FBI’s balloon as it was investigating Lawrence A. Franklin, a midlevel official who served twice as a reserve Air Force colonel in the U.S. Embassy in Tel Aviv.

Mr. Franklin is a Farsi-speaking Likudnik whose luncheon conversation with the Israeli Embassy’s Deputy Chief of Mission whetted the FBI’s investigative appetite. But the FBI doesn’t seem to understand the difference between Jonathan Pollard, now in his 17th year of a life sentence for espionage, who stole secret documents by the briefcase load for his Mossad handlers, and Mr. Franklin, a member of the Likud family in the Pentagon, who had no secrets from his extended family in Israel. After all, this has been standard operating practice for almost 60 years.

P.S. for the FBI: All Likudniks are neocons, but not all neocons are Likudniks. It would be the better part of valor to give them a wide berth.

Arnaud de Borchgrave is editor at large of The Washington Times and of United Press International.

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