Washington - While taken by surprise by the Ben-Ami Kadish spy scandal, Israeli officials remained confident this week that the affair will not have a chilling effect on the strong political and defense ties the two countries share.
Israeli officials in Jerusalem and Washington said this week that the dialogue with the United States over the Kadish case will be done in a cooperative and nonconfrontational way and that if asked by Americans, Israel will provide assistance. As of press time no such request has been formally put forward, though in an initial conversation with an Israeli diplomat a State Department official did raise the issue of the need for possible future cooperation.
“We have no reason to believe they [the U.S.] will want to make a big affair out of this,” an Israeli official in Jerusalem said, dismissing the description of the Kadish investigation as a “second Pollard.”
Statements by Israeli government officials following the news of Kadish’s April 22 arrest emphasized the long time that has passed since the alleged espionage acts took place and the assurances that Israel has since provided to Washington about its commitment not to spy in the United States.
Much has changed in relations between Jerusalem and Washington since Kadish went on his alleged espionage missions in a U.S. Army facility in New Jersey. Security cooperation has deepened, and Israel has become a major recipient of cutting-edge military technology, such as missile defense systems, as well as satellite-gathered intelligence and early warning against possible attacks.
American trust in Jerusalem, according to an Israeli source who was involved in recent years in security ties between Israel and the United States, was also restored after the Pollard affair, and Israelis have noticed a greater understanding in Washington for the demand that compromise around the negotiation table be offset by ensuring Israel’s military edge over neighboring countries.
“In my opinion, the state of our strategic ties with the United States is stronger than this,” Gideon Ezra, Israel’s environment minister, told Israeli radio.
The Kadish espionage affair comes at a time when bilateral relations between Jerusalem and Washington are, by most indications, as close as they have ever been. President Bush is preparing for his second visit in Israel, to take place this month. A new decade-long American military aid program for Israel recently kicked in. And a semiannual strategic dialogue between American and Israeli officials, at which mutual threats and responses are discussed, has become well established and is set to convene once again this week in Washington.
Congressional relations are also at a peak. On April 23, while newspaper headlines still carried the spy story, both the Senate and House of Representatives unanimously adopted a resolution that congratulates Israel on its 60th anniversary and “reaffirms the bonds of friendship and cooperation which have existed between the United States and Israel for the past 60 years.”
Yet while all agree the affair is unlikely harm political and security ties between the two countries, the case does have the potential of becoming a major source of embarrassment for Israel in the United States.
“This will distract from the focus on the 60th anniversary of Israel’s rebirth as a modern state,” said Jennifer Laszlo Mizrahi, head of the Washington-based pro-Israel advocacy group The Israel Project. “It’s a hard enough sell as it is.”
Nathan Guttman, staff writer, is the Forward’s Washington bureau chief. He joined the staff in 2006 after serving for five years as Washington correspondent for the Israeli dailies Haaretz and The Jerusalem Post. In Israel, he was the features editor for Ha’aretz and chief editor of Channel 1 TV evening news. He was born in Canada and grew up in Israel. He is a graduate of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.