Last month, the New York Times described the hero’s welcome in Israel for Jonathan Pollard, who served 30 years in jail for spying for Israel, as “relatively subdued.” In view of the fact that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu led this “subdued” reception, it is time to throw some shade on Bibi and Jonathan. After all, the United States has supplied Israeli with huge amounts of military and economic aid as well as intelligence support over the years with very little return.
We need to be reminded of the reasons for Pollard’s unusually long jail sentence. First of all, he was not a zealous Zionist trying to protect Israeli national security. Before trying to sell sensitive documents and intercepts to Israel, he tried to sell sensitive intelligence to Libya’s Muammar Qadhafi and others. Second, some of Pollard’s materials ended up in the Soviet Union, which begs serious questions about Israel’s security forces that have never been answered. Third, Pollard’s perfidy compromised important collection activities that led to a failure to prevent acts of terrorism against Israel, resulting in loss of life.
These are presumably the reasons why then secretary of defense Casper Weinberger ignored a previous agreement with the courts and made sure that Pollard received a life sentence under the Espionage Act, the only American who ever received such a sentence for passing intelligence to a so-called ally. Pollard claimed falsely that he committed espionage only because the United States “collectively endangered Israel’s security by withholding crucial information.” In fact, I participated as a CIA analyst in numerous intelligence exchanges with Mossad, and can certify that the U.S. intelligence community could not have been more generous with its intelligence sharing with Israel. It took more than a decade for Israel to acknowledge that Pollard was on the Israeli payroll.
Netanyahu’s welcome ceremony for Pollard puts the lie to the original Israeli defense that the Pollard operation was a rogue affair that was not sponsored by the Israeli government and its security services. Netanyahu’s view that Pollard was only willing to help Israel is similarly fatuous. Netanyahu is desperate, fighting for his political life, facing serious charges of fraud, breach of trust, and accepting bribes in three corruption cases. Israeli prosecutors assert that Bibi was involved in 150 incidents to get favorable press coverage from a popular news site in return for promoting regulations worth hundreds of millions of dollars to the owner of the site.
Netanyahu has enthusiastically worked against U.S national security interests. In 2015, Netanyahu accepted an invitation from the U.S. Congress to address a joint congressional session as part of a campaign to defeat the Obama administration’s efforts to negotiate the Iranian nuclear accord. Netanyahu’s address was an unacceptable interference in the U.S. domestic political arena; he never should have agreed to participate and there should have been consequences. President Obama refused to hold a private meeting with the Israeli Prime Minister but, before leaving office, the president signed the most generous military aid package ever given to the Israelis. Thus, Netanyahu paid no price for lobbying in our congress against the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.
In 2019, 400 members of the Senate and House of Representatives gifted Netanyahu with a letter to President Trump advocating a Middle East policy that fully indulged the Israeli agenda for the region. The fact that the letter coincided with Netanyahu’s floundering efforts to form a new Israeli government suggests that the Congress was trying to enhance the Israeli prime minister’s efforts. Donald Trump and the U.S. Congress were on the same page in trying to boost Netanyahu’s standing. Trump used his entire four-year term to engage in political giveaways to Israel.
The congressional letter to Trump was presented as a U.S. regional security agenda for the Middle East, but the recommendations that concerned Syria and Iran were thoroughly consistent with Israeli (and Saudi) proclamations and propaganda. Israeli and Saudi spokesmen had been lobbying the Congress for such a statement and, in gaining a letter signed by most Democratic and Republican party leaders, the capitals of Jerusalem and Riyadh have been well rewarded. (Five congressional contenders for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination signed the letter, indicating that the Biden administration will face the same one-sided congressional policy.)
Sadly, there is a history of anti-Americanism in Israel. In the 1950s, Israeli agents bombed a United States Information Agency library in Egypt and tried to make it appear to be an Egyptian act of violence. This was an act of terrorism designed to stop the West from improving relations with Cairo, specifically to compromise the Eisenhower administration’s efforts to improve U.S.-Egyptian relations.
In the mid-1960s, the Israelis told the United States at the highest levels that it would not conduct a pre-emptive attack against the Arab states, which is exactly what it did in starting the Six-Day War. In the war’s opening days, moreover, Israeli fighter planes bombed the USS Liberty, leading to the deaths of 34 American sailors. The Israelis claimed it was an accident. If so, it was the best planned “accident” that I ever observed as a CIA intelligence analyst.
In the October War in 1973, the Israelis did their best to compromise a cease-fire that Secretary of State Henry Kissinger had carefully orchestrated with the Soviet Union. Israeli violations of the cease-fire led to Kissinger’s threats to intervene in the conflict if Israeli forces did not cease their military operations. Israel’s invasion of Lebanon in 1982 and its war crimes against the Palestinians led to the intervention of U.S. Marines to pull Israel’s chestnuts out of the fire. The bombing of the U.S. embassy in Beirut and the Marine barracks the following year led to terrible losses for the United States. Israeli war crimes in Gaza have added to U.S. problems in pursuing a peace process in the Middle East.
What should President-elect Biden do? Since the United States has insufficient non-military tools of influence vis-a-vis Israel, it is time to use our military assistance as a source of leverage. The United States gives far too much military aid to Israel, which has not faced a serious military challenge from the Arab world since Egyptian President Anwar Sadat courageously concluded a peace agreement more than three decades ago. The Israelis, moreover, get generous terms for that aid that is not available to any other country in the world.
Over the past several years, Netanyahu has gone out of his way to embarrass virtually every U.S. official, including President Obama, then Vice President Joe Biden, and Secretaries of State Hillary Clinton and John Kerry. There are Israeli officials who believe that Netanyahu has gone too far. The only way to lend some credibility to our concerns is to adopt a tougher stand on issues of concern. Joe Biden could find more support than he would expect, both at home and abroad, for standing up to the intransigence of the Israeli Prime Minister.
The U.S. commitment to Israel is sufficiently strong and even one-sided; there is no need for greater enhancement. The greater problem for the U.S. is dealing effectively with Israel and Saudi Arabia, the traditional twin pillars of U.S. policy in the region. The energy revolution in the United States means that we are no longer dependent on Saudi oil; we should be using leverage for genuine reform in Saudi Arabia. The White House and the Congress should stop playing to the worst sides of Bibi Netanyahu, and should start making genuine efforts to negotiate with the Palestinian Authority in order to seek a path toward a two-state solution. The United States needs to ignore Israel importuning, and return to the Iran nuclear accord as soon as possible. The congressional catering to Bibi Netanyahu and the presidential catering to Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman and his criminal behavior must stop.