Jonathan Pollard has been a lightning rod of controversy in terms of the relationship between the State of Israel and the United States of America. Pollard, the US Navy intelligence analyst, was given a life sentence back i n1987 for passing on confidential information to Israel in the mid-80s. After serving a 30 year prison sentence with an additional 5 years of house-arrest parole in his NYC apartment, he has finally come to Israel, welcomed by Prime Minister Netanyahu.
Many people look at the Pollard affair and see a case where the punishment doesn’t fit the crime. Pollard gave Israel intel information that US officials were withholding from Israel. They say that Pollard did not spy “against” the United States, rather that he provided only information he believed was vital to Israeli security and was being withheld by the Pentagon.
There has been much speculation about that confidential information. Some of the most vociferous anti-Pollard voices have claimed that the intel included extremely damaging information about the USA, which even led to the death of US spies. Others, however, have claimed that there was nothing damaging about the intel and that it wasn’t even information about the USA or US spies at all. Rather, it was information about Arab countries that the Pentagon was supposed to provide Israel yet was endangering Israel by withholding it from Israel. Hence, Pollard felt compelled to provide the information to Israel. It has been documented that that information included data on Soviet arms shipments to Syria, Iraqi and Syrian chemical weapons, the Pakistani atomic bomb project and Libyan air defense systems. He is also believed to have given Israel satellite photos of the PLO headquarters in Tunis, which Israel used to prepare airstrikes.
Back in 2012 Tablet Magazine went through the CIA’s own declassified reports and found out that the CIA’s own reports showed that Pollard’s intel was not the horrendous, damaging intel about the US that Pollard’g biggest detractors had been saying throughout the years.
“Pollard did not procure secrets about the United States—nor did Israel ask him to. The intelligence he provided his Israeli handlers consisted of the information that the United States had acquired concerning Arab and other Middle Eastern states. This information may not change the minds of long-time detractors, but it vindicates those who have argued that Pollard, having already served a punishment that fit his crime, should be released.”
“The fact that Pollard did not collect intelligence against his native country is reflected in the June 4, 1986, indictment handed down by the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. Pollard was charged with violating Title 18 United States Code, section 794(a), gathering or delivering defense information to aid a foreign government. This federal law “makes it a crime to deliver defense information to a foreign government ‘with intent or reason to believe’ that the information is to be used in one of two ways: ‘to the injury of the United States,’ or, alternatively, ‘to the advantage of a foreign nation.’ ”
“Presumably recognizing that Israel is an ally and not an enemy, the indictment specifies only the second part of the statute, charging Pollard with delivering “information and documents relating to the national defense of the United States, having intent and reason to believe that the same would be used to the advantage of ISRAEL.”
James Woolsey, a former director of the CIA under the Clinton Administration, noted to the journalist of the Tablet article that “Pollard is serving time comparable to Aldrich Ames and Robert Hanssen, American intelligence officers who sold secrets to the Soviet Union. But unlike those two Soviet spies, said Woolsey, “Pollard did not get anybody killed and was not spying for an enemy. We’ve had South Korea, the Philippines, and Greece, all friendly countries, spy on us. We caught them and they served time, which has turned out to be a very few years, or much less time than Pollard has already served.”
In a 2006 interview with the JPost, Rafael Eitan, the Israeli official who was in charge of Pollard, said, “It is likely that we could have gotten the same information without him (Pollard).” He also said, however, that Pollard provided “information of such high quality and accuracy, so good and so important to the country’s security” that “my desire, my appetite to get more and more material overcame me.” He added that the information might have made a difference had Israel been involved in another war. Eitan also maintained that Pollard never exposed any American agents and that another spy, Aldrich Ames, tried to blame Pollard to divert suspicion from his activities.
There are a few important details that cannot be ignored when dealing with the Pollard affair. Pollard never claimed innocence. He always claimed that he deserved to be punished for breaking the law and spying for another country. But he always claimed that Israel should have received this critical security information, and therefore, there should be some leniency in his sentence. Meaning, he should receive, 5, 7, or 10 years. But 30 years seemed an exaggerated amount of time.
But there are more aspects to the Pollard case. The case broke open in the waning years of the Cold War. The arms buildup and wars in the Middle East between Iraq and Iran were largely predicated on arms purchases from the Soviet Union, France, and even the United States. Even Donald Rumsfeld, in his first term of Secretary of Defense under the Ford administration in the mid 70’s, met with the Iraqi dictator, Saddam Hussein and worked out arms purchases. By 1991, the United States led a full-blown war against the Iraqi dictator’s Army in order to turn them back from their Kuwait invasion, and to protect Saudi Arabia – and their oil – from Iraq. Pollard’s spying happened in the mid 80’s. By 1991 – 1992, the Soviet Union had crumbled. The Cold War was over. Iraq’s army had been decimated and the entire Middle East was no longer the powder keg it had once been. Israel was still dealing with difficult internal uprisings by Arab terrorists, but the main existential threat that Israel faced was via Iran. Did Pollard’s information provide Israel with an upper hand in the spying battle against Iran or Iraq? Perhaps. If Pollard’s detractors claim that he gave them such sensitive information, it probably did. If so, the main reason to lock him up that existed after the Cold War ended was vengeance or anti-semitism. Anybody who knew Caspar Weinberger knew that his thoughts on Israel and the Middle East were anything but Pro-Israel.
The most reasonable conclusion about the Pollard case is that Pollard deserved 7-10 years, and then should have been freed once the Cold War was over. The extra 20+ years were a clear expression of anti-semitism from the highest levels of US government. Pollard is a non-ordinary hero. But, his actions may have indeed saved the lives of hundreds of thousands.
Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu is extremely familiar with the Pollard case. He understands how Pollard’s actions ruined his own life while trying to save many Israeli lives. For that, Netanyahu personally welcomed Pollard at the airport.