The former head of the allegedly rogue clandestine organization that ran Jonathan Pollard confirmed Sunday for the first time that the prime minister and defense minister at the time knew full well that Israel had a spy within the US armed forces.
Rafi Eitan, the head of the Bureau of Scientific Relations in November 1985, told Channel 2’s Uvda investigative news program that he did not want to address the matter of who knew about Pollard because he did not want to make “headlines,” but, when asked whether then-prime minister Shimon Peres and -defense minister Yitzhak Rabin were aware of the spy’s actions, he said, after some deliberation, “Of course.”
Pollard, a civilian intelligence analyst for the US Navy, passed reams of classified material to Israel from the summer of 1984 until November 1985. He has been serving a life sentence in US federal prison since 1987 and will be eligible for parole in November 2015.
Pollard was recruited by an up-and-coming Israel Air Force officer, Col. Aviem Sella, and run by Eitan, a former Shin Bet and Mossad officer, who had, among other things, led the Mossad team that captured the fugitive Nazi commander Adolph Eichmann.
In the brief clip released by Uvda on Sunday evening in advance of Monday’s full episode, Eitan, 88, described the crucial moment when he learned that Pollard – abandoned by his Israeli handlers – had fled to the Israeli embassy in Washington DC, bringing his FBI tail to the gate.
A call from the embassy’s encoded phone explained the predicament to Eitan. “What do you say to yourself then?” the interviewer asked Eitan.
“I don’t say anything [to myself],” he recalled. “I said right away: throw him out.”
He added: “I don’t regret it.”
According to the report, Eitan knew about Pollard’s impending arrest three days before it occurred, and informed the prime minister and defense minister that Pollard would soon be detained.
Peres, a 2012 recipient of the Medal of Freedom, the US’s highest civic award, is portrayed in Michael Bar-Zohar’s authorized biography as being “stricken by shock” upon Pollard’s capture, leaving the reader uncertain as to whether the cause for surprise was the capture or the espionage.
Visibly bemused, Eitan recalled that, “I said in advance, I take all of the responsibility on me. I gave the order. Only I gave the order. No one authorized me.”
That arrangement, he added, “solved the problem for the people of Israel.”