If Social Security is the third rail of American politics, Israel is the third rail of U.S. geopolitics.
For most of Israel’s short life as an independent state, AIPAC (the American Israel Public Affairs Committee) has played the role of a political action committee (PAC) defending and advocating Israeli interests in both houses of Congress. It is the single most important organization affecting the relationship with Israel.
In the last 50 years, AIPAC has nursed through Congress scores of pro-Israel legislative initiatives, blocking at the same time pro-Arab measures Israel deemed dangerous to its security.
AIPAC’s list of almost 100,000 members reads like a Who’s Who of generous supporters of Israeli causes. That AIPAC never had to register as a foreign agent demonstrates Israel is an integral part of the body politic, a de facto 51st state of the Union. Its most successful lobbying effort was to convince each new Congress and the occupant of the White House that Israeli interests are identical to America’s fundamental interests, ergo no need to register if you are lobbying for a safer America.
Prime Minister Ariel Sharon recently concluded his 11th tete-a-tete with President Bush. He had flown over for AIPAC’s annual conference, attended by 5,000 activists at the Washington Hilton, where congressional and administration luminaries consider it a “must” to be seen on the podium extolling eternal friendship between the two countries The convention draws more politicians than any other event, except the president’s State of the Union message.
AIPAC Hall-of-Famer Richard N. Perle’s Israel-right-or-wrong speech drew thunderous applause when he favored a military raid on Iran. Condoleezza Rice drew stony silence when she said Yasser Arafat’s successor Mahmoud Abbas “is committed to both freedom and security.”
The FBI unfortunately threw caution to the wind when it ignored this column’s friendly advice last September and decided to try touching the third rail. What a mess that made.
A Pentagon official, Larry Franklin, who had worked at the U.S. Embassy in Tel Aviv and fell in love with Israel, was seen sharing national security documents with his pals at AIPAC over lunch at the Tivoli restaurant in Arlington. FBI surveillance tapes show Mr. Franklin relaying top-secret information to Steve Rosen and Keith Weissman. But this was the kind of routine exchange that had gone on for a half-century. It was hardly another Jonathan Pollard case, the Israeli spy who carted off secret documents by the wheelbarrow-full, and is now serving a life sentence.
Mr. Franklin, 58, surrendered in early May at the FBI’s Washington field office after the government filed a criminal complaint accusing him of handing over classified national defense information to persons not entitled to receive it.
This was the first time AIPAC officials had been tagged as unworthy to hear high-level confidences. They had listened to, or been shown, classified information of interest to Israel for decades — and no gumshoe ever filed a complaint. The FBI, for reasons it has kept close to its bulletproof vest, elevated routine practice to treason.
Given Washington’s perennial loss of institutional memory, there is no reason the FBI — or anyone else — should remember a famous case that dramatized Israel’s clout in Washington during the Carter administration. An Israeli procurement general and his U.S. opposite number were going over a list of U.S. military items the Israeli Defense Force needed in its next tranche of military assistance. The Pentagon-based general pointed out several sensitive items were proscribed by Congress and doubtless would be turned down.
The Israeli decided to humor him. In a famous retort leaked to the newspapers, the IDF general said, “Our job is to deliver Congress and yours is to ship the goods to Israel.”
Mr. Franklin’s hot classified news seemed innocuous enough among members of the same family who have no secrets from each other. He had worked for the Defense Department since 1979 and held a “top secret” security clearance. The FBI trailed him three years. They finally nailed him with documents on “axis of evil” Iran clearly of concern to both countries.
Mr. Franklin was one of 1,300 employees in the policy branch of the Pentagon under Douglas Feith, a passionate advocate of Israel who once advised the right-wing Likud Party.
AIPAC Executive Director Howard Kohr asked Steve Rosen and Keith Weissman to walk the plank and the annual AIPAC conference was spared the sparring. They both knew the FBI had incriminating evidence, though has yet to deliver an indictment. The Rosen-Weissman legal fees have already reached $1 million, but AIPAC ensured they wouldn’t go broke.
Mr. Rosen gave his entire life to AIPAC. His Palm Pilot Rolodex spanned 50 states and the rest of the world. He founded the organization’s government branch, which pioneered lobbying the administration — the White House, the State Department and the Pentagon — in addition to Congress.
He became AIPAC’s government branch. A national security and foreign policy specialist, Mr. Rosen often called editors and reporters he felt had strayed from the hallowed reservation. He didn’t take kindly to articles critical of the Israeli government.
AIPAC never bragged of its many successes. Anyone who is anyone among Israel’s friends and admirers knows what AIPAC achieves year in and year out. In the next year, its new aim is to convince Congress to underwrite all Israel’s expenses for incurred withdrawing from Gaza and four isolated outposts in the northern West Bank, as well as resettling 8,000 Israelis.
The $2 billion wall-electronic-fence-razor wire-ditch is funded by a mix of grants and loans — also from the U.S. The almost $3 billion Israel receives every year for defense will be increased accordingly.
Full-page ads in the New York Times and The Washington Times, placed by the leftist Council for the National Interest Foundation, called on AIPAC to register as an agent of a foreign government. Forget about it. CNIF champions Hezbollah and Hamas, two organizations listed as terrorist by the State Department. It also long enjoyed the support of Abdulrahman Alamoudi, a Muslim American who now sits in a Virginia jail cell to face a 19-count indictment, including federal charges of money laundering, financial assistance to terrorist organizations and a role in an alleged Libyan plot to assassinate Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Abdullah.
CNIF needs a fair amount of purging before it can expect to be taken seriously by mainstream America. Meanwhile, AIPAC’s extraterritorial dispensation will continue unperturbed.
Arnaud de Borchgrave is editor at large of The Washington Times and of United Press International.