Alleged Pollard Recruiter Resigns Post
TEL AVIV, Israel (AP) _ Air force Col. Aviem Sella resigned his air base command after being indicted in the United States in the Pollard spy case, and Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir predicted today this would ease U.S.-Israel ties.
Sella’s appointment on March 3 to command Israel’s Tel Nof air base angered U.S. officials who interpreted it as a reward for his role in the Jonathan Jay Pollard affair. He was said to have recruited Pollard.
The day after Sella’s appointment, Pollard, a 32-year-old American Jew and former civilian analyst for the U.S. Navy, was sentenced in Washington to life in prison for selling Israel hundreds of classified U.S. military documents in 1984-85.
Speaking on Israel TV today, Shamir said he foresaw improved U.S.-Israeli relations as a result of Sella’s resignation on Sunday, saying, ″Of course, it makes things easier. All in all, it was a positive resignation.″
Shamir declined to say if he believed that Sella’s promotion was a mistake. He said that was up to investigating committees to determine.
Sella was quoted today in the mass circulation newspaper Yediot Ahronot as acknowledging that he recruited Pollard, that he did not consider it a mistake and that he resigned only because ″America wants a head.″
But an Israeli military spokeswoman, Capt. Irit Barash, said Sella had given no newspaper interviews and the story about his remarks was an ″invention.″
Yediot Ahronot, in a story by Yehudit Yehezkieli, quoted Sella as saying he recruited Pollard and passed him on to Rafael Eitan, head of the Defense Ministry’s Scientific Liaison Bureau.
But Mrs. Barash said, ″Sella never said those things. It is the invention of the reporter. She made it up.″
Sella could not be reached for comment.
Yediot Ahronot had no immediate comment on the army spokeswoman’s statement.
In his resignation letter, Sella, 46, cited his concern for deteriorating U.S.-Israeli relations over the Pollard affair. Sella was indicted in the United States this month on espionage charges.
At the White House today, spokesman Marlin Fitzwater said, ″Our position on Mr. Sella has not changed by virtue of this action (Sella’s resignation). He’s under indictment and we don’t do business with people under indictment.″
Sella was quoted in Yediot Ahronot as saying in an interview on Friday, ″Yes, I recruited Pollard. He came to me, and I passed him on to Rafi Eitan. I did not do more than that ...
″I don’t think I made a mistake ... I did only what any other (Israeli) Jew would have done.″
Sella was quoted as saying his contact with Pollard was limited to recruitment because controlling a spy was the job of the secret services.
He also was quoted as saying he was reluctant to leave his post but that ″America wants a head.″
Sella, who remains in the air force, said in resigning that he was stepping down because of ″the worsening of Israeli-U.S. relations and my concern for the future of relations between the two countries and ties with U.S. Jewry.″
His letter added, ″If facts had been the only consideration, I would not have drawn the conclusion that I reached.″ He did not elaborate.
Sella said his decision was ″personal and independent″ and came despite numerous requests ″from the general public and even American citizens who have expressed support and identification with me and have urged me to continue in my job.″
According to Israeli newspapers, Sella was a top pilot and computer expert who won the Air Force Prize, one of its highest awards, for a program that jams enemy radar during combat. Colleagues described him as one of two or three candidates for air force commander.
Sella has faced little criicism in Israel for his role in the Pollard case, and his resignation drew wide praise.
Yossi Sarid, a left-wing member of Parliament, praised Sella’s decision and called on Defense Minister Yitzhak Rabin and other politicians allegedly involved to resign as well.
″I respect a person who decides on his own,″ said Foreign Minister Shimon Peres, head of the left-leaning Labor Party.
The government said in November 1985 when Pollard was arrested that his hiring was done by low-level officials and had not been authorized by the government. But in a presentencing statement, Pollard claimed his activities were known by senior Israelis.
A government-appointed panel and a parliament subcommittee are investigating the affair.