Saturday, August 28, 2004 | Israel denying charges of spying on the U.S. | Israel denying charges of spying on the U.S.: "Israel denying charges of spying on the U.S. News Staff

Israel is denying allegations that it spied on the United States to obtain information on Iran's nuclear program.

David Siegel, spokesman for the Israeli Embassy in Washington, called the allegations "completely false and outrageous."

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon also said his country had no involvement in the case.

Yuval Steinitz, chairman of the Israeli parliament's Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, says that his country is not spying on its closest ally, in spite of concerns over Iran's nuclear development.

"Israel is very concerned ... that the ayatollahs will acquire nuclear weapons because this is an unpredictable regime with close network to terror organizations around the world," he said.

"But if you think this might change our previous decision to spy on the U.S., the answer is no."

Israel put a ban on espionage against the U.S. government or within the United States. That decision was taken in the wake of the Jonathan Pollard case, a U.S. naval intelligence officer convicted of espionage in 1986 and sentenced to life in prison. He had leaked classified material to Israel.

The White House responded cautiously on Saturday to the report. "Any time there is an allegation of this nature, it is a serious matter," said Scott McClellan, a White House spokesman.

U.S. President George W. Bush is known to be a strong supporter of Israel. He didn't personally say anything about the allegations while campaigning in Ohio on Saturday.

According to an Associated Press report on Saturday, the material leaked didn't detail U.S. military or intelligence operations, wouldn't have endangered the lives of U.S. operatives overseas or reveal any intelligence-gathering techniques.

As a result, the prosecutors were weighing whether to charge the suspect with espionage or a lesser offence.

Officials also said the investigation is not yet complete and it was possible others might be implicated in the affair.

The allegations

CBS News reported Friday -- with other reports confirming it -- that the FBI believes an official operating at the very highest level of the Pentagon has being leaking information to Israel.

It has been investigating into the potential espionage for about a year.

U.S. officials refused to name the suspect, but said the person is an analyst in the office of Douglas Feith. He is undersecretary of defense for policy and the number-three official in the Pentagon.

Feith is known for having close ties with Israel. He prepared a policy paper for former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu before Netanyahu's election in 1996, and is a former law partner of Israeli-American attorney Marc Zell.

CBS News said it was told of wiretaps, undercover surveillance and photographic evidence documenting the passing of evidence from the spy to two people who work for the American Israeli Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC).

That group is considered to be a very powerful pro-Israel lobby group in Washington.

Those two individuals in turn passed the intelligence on to the Israelis, the network said.

CBS said according to its sources, the suspected spy handed over a presidential directive on Iran while it was still in the draft phase. The sources said this put Israel "inside the decision-making loop" and could help them influence the eventual outcome.

In a statement issued Friday, the U.S. Defense Department said the case involved someone at the "desk officer level, who was not in a position to have significant influence over U.S. policy. Nor could a foreign power be in a position to influence U.S. policy through this individual."

According to The Associated Press, the individual in question was in the news last year when it was disclosed he and a Pentagon colleague had met two years before with an Iranian who was involved in the Iran-Contra affair.

Israel and Iran

Relations between Israel and Iran, a fundamentalist Islamic state, continue to be strained.
Israel has long been fearful of Iran's nuclear program, including the possibility it is trying to develop nuclear weapons.

Israeli officials have hinted of possible strikes against Iranian nuclear facilities. Israeli warplanes destroyed Iraq's Osirak reactor in 1981.

Iran has said it would destroy Israel's Dimona reactor if Israel carried out the threat.
There has reportedly been some debate within the Bush administration on how hard a line to take against Iran, which Bush once described as part of an "axis of evil."

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has pushed the U.S. to adopt the hardline approach.
Besides Iran, investigators are also wondering if the Israelis used the mole to help influence U.S. policy on the Iraq war.

The U.S. government told AIPAC it wants information about the two employees and their contacts with the Pentagon staffer.

AIPAC told CBS it is co-operating but denies any wrongdoing by either the organization or any of its employees. AIPAC has also hired outside counsel."


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