espionage

Politicians may prefer to express admiration of Israel, and hand over billions of dollars in aid, but the US security establishment has – at least in private – always regarded Israel as an untrustworthy partner. The distrust has been particularly hard to hide in relation to Iran. Mounting pressure from Israel appears to be designed to manoeuvre Washington into supporting an attack on Tehran to stop it supposedly developing a nuclear weapon.

Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel’s prime minister, risked further straining relations with the White House, already damaged by the impasse in peace talks, by writing an open letter this week to President Barack Obama urging the release of spy Jonathan Pollard. It is the first time that an Israeli government has made a formal request for clemency for Pollard, who was sentenced to life in 1987 for passing thousands of classified documents to Israel while serving in US naval intelligence.

A vague security offence of “contact with a foreign agent” is being used by Israel’s secret police, the Shin Bet, to lock up Arab political activists in Israel without evidence that a crime has been committed, human rights lawyers alleged this week. The lawyers said the Shin Bet was exploiting the law to characterise innocent or accidental meetings between members of Israel’s large Arab minority and Arab foreign nationals as criminal activity.

A leading human rights activist from Israel’s Palestinian Arab minority was charged yesterday with the most serious security offences on Israel’s statute book, including espionage. Prosecutors indicted Ameer Makhoul, the head of Ittijah, an umbrella organisation for Arab human rights groups in Israel, with spying on security facilities on behalf of Hizbollah after an alleged meeting with one of its agents in Denmark in 2008.

The recent arrest of two respected public figures from Israel’s Palestinian Arab minority in nighttime raids on their homes by the Shin Bet secret police — brought to light this week when a gag order was partially lifted — has sent shock waves through the community. The arrests are not the first of their kind. The Shin Bet has been hounding and imprisoning politicians and intellectuals from the country’s Palestinian minority since the birth of the Jewish state more than six decades ago.

An Israeli journalist who went into hiding after writing a series of reports showing lawbreaking approved by Israeli army commanders faces a lengthy jail term for espionage if caught, as Israeli security services warned at the weekend they would “remove the gloves” to track him down. The Shin Bet, Israel’s secret police, said it was treating Uri Blau, a reporter with the liberal Haaretz daily newspaper who has gone underground in London, as a “fugitive felon” and that a warrant for his arrest had been issued.

What is misleadingly being called in Israel the “Anat Kamm espionage affair” is quickly revealing the dark underbelly of a nation that has worshipped for decades at the altar of a security state. Next week 23-year-old Kamm is due to stand trial for her life — or rather the state’s demand that she serve a life sentence for passing secret documents to an Israeli reporter, Uri Blau, of the liberal Haaretz daily. She is charged with spying. Blau himself is in hiding in London, facing, if not a Mossad hit squad, at least the stringent efforts of Israel’s security services to get him back to Israel.