Thursday, 28 October 2010

New spy case won't harm U.S.-Israel ties

Ex-U.S. Army engineer Ben-Ami Kadish, 84, held for suspected nuclear espionage; says he was helping Israel.

Environment Minister and former senior security official Gideon Ezra said Wednesday that he does not believe Israel's relations with the U.S. will suffer in light of revelations that an American Army engineer spied for Israel in the 1980s.

"Our strategic relationship with the United States is stronger than this," Ezra, a former deputy head of the Shin Bet security services, told Israel Radio.

Ben-Ami Kadish was arrested Tuesday on charges that he spied for Israel over 20 years ago.

But the former head of the Mossad espionage agency, Labor MK Danny Yatom, said Wednesday that the arrest had touched a nerve with Washington.

"I think what primarily bothers the Americans is the feeling that Israel didn't tell them the whole truth two decades ago, in 1985, when the Pollard affair exploded," Yatom told Army Radio.

The 84-year-old Kadish was to be charged with slipping classified documents about nuclear weapons, fighter jets and air defense missiles to an Israeli Consulate employee who also received information from convicted spy Jonathan Pollard, authorities said.

Kadish acknowledged his spying in FBI interviews, and said he acted out of a belief that he was helping Israel, court papers said

Yatom added: "The Americans asked if there are additional people that Israel ran or are running in the United States. The answer, to the best of my knowledge, was always no," Yatom said.

"If what has been reported is true, and it appears it is true, and Ben-Ami Kadish kept in touch with what the Americans described as his old handler in Israel, I can call it unnecessary stupidity," the Labor MK said.

A U.S. citizen, Kadish was scheduled to appear in U.S. District Court in Manhattan on Tuesday, where he was facing four counts of conspiracy, including allegations that he conspired to disclose U.S. national defense documents to Israel, and that he acted as an agent of the Israeli government.

According to the criminal complaint, the activities occurred from 1979 through 1985 while the Connecticut-born Kadish worked at the U.S. Army's Armament Research, Development and Engineering Center in Dover, New Jersey.

Yuval Steinitz, another official with inside knowledge of Israel's intelligence services, did not deny a second spy had operated in the U.S. in parallel with Pollard - but insisted such espionage ceased long ago.

"The Americans know... that since Pollard was exposed in 1985, Israel doesn't recruit agents or receive classified material [in] the United States," said Steinitz, a former chairman of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee.

Pensioner Affairs Minister Rafi Eitan, a former Mossad official who recruited Pollard to spy for Israel, said he was not aware of the Kadish case.

"I have no idea," he said. "This is the first time I've heard about it. I'll go listen to the news."

When asked whether he recognized Kadish's name, Eitan repeated, "I have no idea."

Foreign Ministry spokesman Arye Mekel issued a response Wednesday, saying "since 1985, a great deal of care has gone into following the guidelines of every prime minister in Israel, which prohibit this kind of activity in the United States."

"The relations between Israel and the United States have always been based on true friendship and similarity of values and interests," he added.

The Prime Minister's Bureau said Tuesday that Israel was not familiar with the details of the case, and was examining the issue. Israeli officials fear that the case might strain Israel-U.S. relations.

Kadish was accused of taking home classified documents several times and letting the Israeli government worker photograph them in Kadish's basement. The documents included information about nuclear weapons, a modified F-15 fighter jet, and the U.S. Patriot missile air defense system, the complaint said.

According to the complaint, the Israeli government worker often provided Kadish with lists of wanted classified national defense documents.

Prosecutors also allege Kadish conspired to hinder a communication with a law enforcement officer, and making a materially false statement to a law enforcement officer.

Those charges stem from a conversation in which Kadish was allegedly told by the Israeli contact to lie to U.S. law enforcement agents and tell them that he didn't remember many of the relevant details. A day later, Kadish lied to FBI agents about his communications with the Israeli worker, the complaint said.

According to U.S. law enforcement officials and various documents, Kadish got in touch with his Israeli contact after Israel agreed in 2004 to secretly acknowledge to American officials that Pollard was not an isolated case, thereby confirming longtime American suspicions that Pollard was not the only American spy working for Israel.

Kadish admitted spying for Israel between 1979 and 1985, and then asked his Israeli contact what to do.

The complaint said Kadish did not appear to receive any money in exchange for his suspected spying, just small gifts and restaurant meals.

The complaint noted that Pollard was charged in November 1985 with espionage-related offense after he provided classified information to the same Israeli worker, among other people.

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