The Franklin case / More strain is coming to U.S.-Israeli relations

Thursday, June 16, 2005

The unsealing Monday of a federal indictment against former Pentagon analyst Lawrence A. Franklin may unfortunately be the start of another long case of Israeli spying against the United States.

Mr. Franklin, who will go to trial Sept. 6, pleaded not guilty to the six-count grand jury filing. If the charges turn out to be true, the result could be even more painful for U.S.-Israeli relations than the Jonathan Pollard case. Pollard, a U.S. Navy intelligence officer convicted in 1987 of spying for Israel in return for money, is still serving a life sentence. The sensitivity of the Pollard case to this day was underscored by Israelis who demonstrated for his release during First Lady Laura Bush's visit to Jerusalem in May.

Mr. Franklin is accused of passing classified information not only to an officer of the Israeli Embassy in Washington, but also to the American-Israel Political Action Committee. The Pollard case did not involve AIPAC.

The indictment identifies two former AIPAC lobbyists as co-conspirators with Mr. Franklin. They are not named in the filing, but government officials say they are Steven Rosen and Keith Weissman. Both were dismissed by AIPAC after news of the Franklin case broke. By doing so, AIPAC has sought to demonstrate disapproval of their suspected involvement, as well as to disassociate itself from the storm that may come with the trial.

The information that Mr. Franklin is accused of having passed to the Israeli Embassy and AIPAC concerns Iranian nuclear testing, a sensitive subject. Israel and the United States have both threatened military action against Iran over its nuclear program. There have been indications that the United States, stretched thin militarily in Iraq and Afghanistan, might be thinking of giving the Israelis a green light to attack Iran's nuclear facilities, as they did Iraq's in 1981. Such action would risk setting off a major regional war between Israel and Iran, with the United States inevitably drawn in -- which is what makes the information that Lawrence Franklin is accused of passing so important.

What is especially disappointing about what we know so far in the Franklin case, as well as the earlier Jonathan Pollard case, is that they take place against a background of intelligence cooperation between the United States and Israel that is -- and has been for many years -- deep and extensive. If the charges against Mr. Franklin turn out to be true, given the relationship between the two countries it is hard to understand why the Israeli government or AIPAC would feel the need to try to obtain classified information through an American spy.

Both Israel and AIPAC must be aware not only of the bad public relations fall-out of such activities when exposed, but also of the erosion of confidence between the two countries that inevitably ensues in a case of espionage. The Israeli Embassy and AIPAC both needed to tell Lawrence Franklin to get lost and even report him to his government if he approached them.

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