Thursday, September 09, 2004

AIPAC spy affair concerns Iran more than Israel

Mathaba.Net News: "The AIPAC spy affair concerns Iran more than Israel
Posted: 09/09
From: Al-Hayat

by Helena Cobban

Steven Rosen, the longstanding head of the "research department" of the powerful AIPAC lobbying organization, prefers to operate in the shadows. The Washington Post reported some years ago that Rosen wrote in an internal memo: "A lobby is like a night flower. It thrives in the dark and dies in the sun."

Now, with the unfolding of the Larry Franklin spy scandal, the bright light of a lot of unwelcome publicity is being shone onto AIPAC and its operations. And especially onto Rosen: he is one of two AIPAC staffers who have been interviewed by the FBI in connection with the Franklin allegations. And on August 27, the FBI also reportedly searched Rosen's office at AIPAC and made a copy of his computer's hard drive.

Many questions surround this still-unfolding spy scandal. The FBI were reportedly pursing a lengthy investigation into possible misdeeds by Rosen and another AIPAC suspect, and were surveilling a lunch those two men were holding with an Israeli diplomat, when Franklin came to join the lunch party… It seems that was the first time Franklin entered the FBI's field of view…

So far, we have heard allegations that Franklin might have either "spied for Israel", or (a lesser charge) "handled classified documents insecurely." But we have not yet heard what the investigation of Rosen and colleague was all about.

Another question hanging over the story concerns the August 27 "leak" to the media about the FBI's investigation of Franklin. That leak was made to CBS News's Lesley Stahl. It embarrassed Franklin, and signaled that he might soon be charged with a crime. Even more importantly, however, it gave everyone else being targeted by the FBI investigation a clear warning that they were now under suspicion-- and gave them plenty of time to destroy any incriminating evidence, and to construct and coordinate "cover stories" for what they had been doing.

Not surprisingly, FBI officials have since said that their investigation was seriously hampered by the leak. And since the existence of this investigation was revealed to the public before rather than after the November election, it is almost certain that heavy political pressure will be put on the FBI to be as "discreet" and "forgiving" as possible in the way it treats AIPAC (and Israel).

The involvement of AIPAC and the Israeli government in Franklin's reported spying efforts also raises the question of "Why would they bother?" After all, the Sharon government has superb and easy access to every corner of U.S. security decision-making! Why would they bother to get involved in a shady little deal with a relatively low-level person in the Pentagon when Wolfowitz, Feith, Elliot Abrams, etc are all only too willing to cooperate with them?

My reading on this question is that this swirl of accusations about Israeli spying in the U.S. tells us less about Israeli spying efforts than it does about the existence of some serious disagreements within the Bush administration on how to deal with Iran.

(Israel, let's face it, is always going to spy as much as it can on everyone, if the recent revelations in New Zealand, Canada, etc, tell us anything.)

Regarding the Bush administration people, it is no secret that in the immediate aftermath of their military victory over Saddam Hussein's army in April 2003, many ranking members of the administration started talking openly about the need to bring about a similarly violent "regime change" in Iran and Syria as their next goal… Over the 17 months since then, however, more and more people in the U.S. military and the country as a whole have seen how hard it has been to achieve what they wanted in Iraq, alone, and how high the costs have been there. Indeed, the mission in Iraq has already been stretching the U.S. military to near breaking point-while it has also clearly harmed the U.S.'s effectiveness in fighting against Al Qaeda…

So the desire of the administration as a whole to launch any new military adventures against Iran or Syria has been much reduced. There is still a chance of an "Osirak"-style hit-and-run raid against an Iranian target or targets-and perhaps this might come before the November election? But to set out to conquer and occupy any more Middle Eastern countries as they did in Iraq? No. Very few people are pushing for that any more.

AIPAC has certainly been trying to keep the heat up against Iran (and Syria). So maybe the Steve Rosen/Larry Franklin connection was working on that.

Meanwhile, the main concern that many Israelis and Jewish Americans have voiced about the Franklin revelations has had nothing to do with Iran-but rather, with their fear that this affair will remind the American public of the strong role that almost exactly this same cast of characters had in jerking the administration into launching the war on Iraq.

That war has been becoming increasingly unpopular here in the U,S., every day. The casualty toll of members of the U.S. military killed there has reached almost 1,000. Israelis and Jewish-Americans who are strong friends of Israel are terrified that Israel and its strong lobbying group here in the U.S. will be blamed for the disasters in Iraq-and of course, there are a lot of reasons why they should be blamed. So now is probably a very bad time for the glare of publicity to be shone onto the activities of AIPAC and its friends and protégés within the administration.

For more than 20 years now, Steve Rosen has run AIPAC's "research" department, becoming one of Washington's most feared behind-the-scenes operators along the way. It would be very interesting if the resentment against AIPAC-in the FBI, and in some other parts of the government-is now strong enough to bring a man like Rosen down. But I still do not believe it will happen. Maybe the most we can expect is that AIPAC and the other pro-Likud lobbyists will be a bit more discreet in their activities over the next few months.
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