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Parliamentary Committee Lays Most of Pollard Case Blame on Peres

May 26, 1987

JERUSALEM (AP) _ A Parliament committee that investigated the Pollard spy case said Tuesday that Israel’s political leaders did not know about the expionage operation but must accept responsibility nonetheless.

Abba Eban, a former foreign minister who headed the seven-member committee, also said those who recruited and handled Jonathan Jay Pollard, a 32-year-old American Jew, acted in ″gross excess of their authority.″

His committee urged the government to ″acknowledge wholeheartedly″ that Israel is responsible for the Pollard affair and continue to correct its mistakes, but did not offer specific recommendations.

It was the second report issued Tuesday on the Pollard case. A government- app ointed commission said earlier the government was at fault, but did not single out individual politicians or make specific recommendations. The commission report has not been made public.

Both investigations were undertaken to appease the United States.

A U.S. federal court sentenced Pollard in March to life in prison for selling hundreds of classified U.S. military documents to Israel in 1984-85 while he was employed as a civilian intelligence analyst for the U.S. Navy. His wife, Anne Henderson-Pollard, got five years for helping him.

According to Pollard, the Israeli government’s ″highest echelons″ were aware of his espionage activities. Israeli leaders denied it.

Reagan administration officials demanded that Israel hold those responsible for recruiting and operating Pollard to account and the government, which gets $3 billion a year in U.S. military and economic aid, was under pressure to comply.

Pollard was part of a spy operation run out of the Defense Ministry and known by its Hebrew acronym Lekem.

Eban told the news conference his committee found ″beyond any possible doubt″ that Lekem officials recruited and operated Pollard without consultation or permission from the ministerial level.

Nevertheless, he said, defense ministers holding office in 1984 and 1985 had to accept blame because ″a minister is responsible even for things that happen without his knowledge.″

Moshe Arens of Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir’s right-wing Likud bloc held the job until replaced in September 1984 by Yitzhak Rabin, a member of the left-leaning Labor Party led by Foreign Minister Shimon Peres.

Peres and Shamir traded jobs last October under terms of the agreement that created their fragile ″national unity″ coalition.

Eban rejected the contention of political leaders that the Lekem spy ring was a renegade.

″It was not a rogue operation,″ Eban said. ″The fact is, they were all official people. They were all part of the bureaucracy.″

He singled out Rafael Eitan, a veteran intelligence agent who directed Lekem. Eban said Eitan ″operated without any permission up to the point where he involved his country in a serious crisis.″

Eitan left the Defense Ministry after Pollard was arrested in November 1985 and has been named head of Israel Chemicals, the largest state-owned company.

The committee also mentioned Aviem Sella, an air force officer indicted in the United States on charges that he recruited Pollard. Eban said Sella, who he called a brilliant man, ″excessively involved himself on his own initiative.″

He criticized Sella’s military superiors for allowing the officer to get involved with Eitan. Eban said Defense Minister Rabin has assured him that military officers no longer will be allowed to deal with intelligence work.

Sella was given command of a major air base a few days before Pollard was sentenced, but later resigned in an attempt to ease U.S.-Israeli tensions.

American officials were especially irate because two leading figures in the scandal appeared to be rewarded for their work.

In its report, the Eban committee said Peres had ″an extra margin of responsibility″ for the Pollard affair because he was prime minister at the time but Shamir, who now holds the job, also was to blame.

Peres also was head of the three-man ministerial team that handled the matter after Pollard’s arrest in November 1985.

Eban’s foreign affairs and defense subcommittee included three Likud and three Labor legislators. The seventh member, Joseph Burg of the National Religious Party, did not take part in drafting the final report.

Eban belongs to Peres’ Labor Party.

The government commission found that neither of the two defense ministers in office while Pollard was spying - Arens and then Rabin - knew of his activities.

Its report was given to Shamir, Peres, Rabin and Arens on Tuesday. The radio said the four approved the conclusions and would ask the full Cabinet to adopt them.

Update hourly