Washington was rocked late last week by allegations that a
Pentagon policy analyst on Iran, Laurence A. Franklin, had passed
classified information to Israel through the American Israel Public Affairs
Committee, the leading pro-Israel lobby group in the US. He is also said to
have had extensive meetings with Naor Gilon, head of the political
department at the Israeli Embassy in Washington, and a specialist on Iran's
nuclear weapons program.
While both AIPAC and the Israeli government have issued categorical denials
of any espionage activities, most observers say that law enforcement
officials would not leak the accusations if they did not have the evidence
to prove their charges. Franklin is said to have provided the Israelis with
a secret presidential directive on Iran related to its ongoing nuclear program.
The New York Times reported on Aug. 30 that, "news reports about the
inquiry compromised important investigative steps, like the effort to
follow the trail back to the Israelis."
The leak seems less designed to pressure Franklin, who is said to have been
cooperating with federal agents for several weeks, than to stymie the
investigation, which is said to be far broader than the allegations made
public at this stage. If the allegations are true, they could have serious
implications for both US-Israel relations and for the reputation of AIPAC,
which is regarded as one of the most powerful and effective lobby groups in
Journalist Steven Green, a long-time observer of Israeli espionage efforts
in the United States, told the Daily Star that he had spoken extensively
with individuals involved in the investigation, and that "I know from
personal experience that its scope is much wider in terms of the targets
than we have been told so far."
He said that more senior officials than Franklin "should be extremely
nervous about this."
Green speculated that the scandal might involve exchanges of information
between "sophisticates in the intelligence communities of Israel and Iran
at the expense of the United States. ... There is a possible quid-pro-quo
involved in Iran receiving US intelligence codes through the neocon
favorite Ahmed Chalabi and the Israelis getting our latest thinking on
Iran's nuclear program. ...You can see how that would benefit both parties,
but not the US."
USA Today reported Monday that law enforcement officials said "there may be
some crossover" between the Franklin and Chalabi investigations.
The scandal has already drawn comparisons to the Jonathan Pollard affair,
in which a Jewish American was caught spying for Israel in 1985. Israeli
officials have said that after the Pollard incident, the country made a
firm decision not to spy on the United States in order to preserve its
relationship with Washington. Several newspapers have quoted unnamed Jewish
American leaders as expressing grave concern about the impact this brewing
scandal could have on the reputation of AIPAC and Israel, but the Israeli
daily Haaretz described one as being "positively relieved" that Franklin
is not Jewish.
"The insinuation that AIPAC, an American Jewish lobby, is engaged in
espionage is in some ways worse than Pollard, who as a single individual
could be described as off-balance," Yossi Alpher, a former Mossad official
told the Washington Post.
These are not the first allegations of Israeli spying in the United States
involving AIPAC, but none have led to indictments, which are expected in