Timing shrouds spy case in mystery

Is it connected to the classified-information case against two former AIPAC staffers? Is it a bid to pressure Israel to concede more to the Palestinians ahead of a new round of peace talks? Or is it peripheral to the murky circumstances of Israel’s mysterious airstrike in Syria last September?

For now, the main question surrounding the case of Ben-Ami Kadish, the octogenarian New Jersey man arrested last week for allegedly sharing classified information with Israel decades ago is: Why now?

The charges against Kadish are serious. He is accused of having shared with his Israeli handler U.S. nuclear secrets, plans for combat aircraft improvements and missile defense information.

But they should be way past their due date: The statute of limitations on the charges is 10 years, unless they warrant the death penalty. Prosecutors have yet to say whether or not they intend to pursue the death penalty against Kadish, who has not been indicted.

Some Jewish community leaders are asking whether Kadish’s arrest is part of an attempt by federal agents to influence the outcome of the classified-information case against two former senior staffers for AIPAC, Steve Rosen and Keith Weissman.

Rosen and Weissman were indicted nearly three years ago for allegedly sharing classified information on Iran and terrorism with journalists, colleagues and Israeli diplomats. But the case against the pair has yet to come to trial in large part because Judge T.S. Ellis III has limited its scope to proving that the defendants harmed U.S. interests with their alleged actions.

Assisting Israel in and of itself is not a crime, Ellis said. The judge also is allowing defendants to call senior Bush administration officials, including Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, to testify. Those obstacles have led the government to file a rare pre-trial appeal.

One Jewish communal leader who spoke to JTA on condition of anonymity said the Kadish arrest constitutes an attempt “to taint the objectivity of jurors ahead of the trial” by creating an impression that spying for Israel has been pervasive.

Other U.S. Jewish leaders speculated whether the motive for the Kadish arrest was political, to give President Bush more leverage in pressing Israel in Israeli-Arab peace talks. Bush will be traveling to the Middle East this month for Israel’s 60th anniversary, and Israel has yet to agree to attend a summit in the Egyptian coastal city Sharm el-Sheik.

The president’s lame-duck status has hobbled his effectiveness, and he is eager for progress in Israeli-Palestinian peace talks that he helped to jump-start last November in Annapolis, Md.

“It’s not easy trying to conduct policy in Washington when you know that there is a powerful pro-Israel constituency out there that says otherwise,” said Lenny Ben-David, a former Israeli diplomat and a former AIPAC staffer. “One reoccurring tactic is to try to whittle support for Israel. So we get the occasional story of a spy, of weaponry sales to China, and it serves to whittle away the U.S.-Israel relationship.”

Another theory suggests that Israel might have leaked the information implicating Kadish in a bid to head off congressional inquiries into its Sept. 6, 2007 airstrike on Syria.

According to this theory, espoused in the American Conservative by former CIA agent Philip Giraldi, conservative Republicans in Congress and in the Bush administration want to use information implicating Syria and North Korea in nuclear weapons cooperation to tamp down outreach to both countries.

Anonymous sources from the State Department told the New York Times last week that this was why the administration decided to release video evidence of North Koreans working at the Syrian site just before it was destroyed by an Israeli airstrike.

Giraldi suggested that Israeli doves who support Israel-Syria negotiations leaked the information on Kadish to create a distraction and scuttle efforts to further isolate the Assad regime.

Ron Kampeas

Ron Kampeas is the D.C. bureau chief at the Jewish Telegraphic Agency.