A newly minted Israeli prime minister was preparing for his maiden visit to the White House. It was Ariel Sharon, meeting with George W. Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney and National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice. And it was March 2001, exactly 10 years ago. Many things that Sharon did not know at that time are now being disclosed by Bush's secretary of defense, Donald Rumsfeld. To mark the publication of his book, "Known and Unknown: A Memoir," hundreds of documents have been published on Rumsfeld's website.
One of them is "Jonathan Jay Pollard - Spy," a memo Rumsfeld sent to Bush, Cheney and Rice on the eve of Sharon's visit. Pollard was caught during the Reagan administration. Then-Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu hoped in 1998 to attain his release from Bill Clinton, in exchange for handing over land to the Palestinians. The gambit, at the end of the Wye River Accord, was foiled under pressure from intelligence and defense top brass, led by CIA chief George Tenet. The next administration, of Bush, Jr., kept Tenet in his post, where he was considered a member of Rumsfeld and Cheney's hawkish faction, aligned against the moderates Rice and Secretary of State Colin Powell.
It is hard to accuse Rumsfeld of hostility to Israel or American Jews; Paul Wolfowitz and Doug Feith were his senior deputies at the Pentagon. But he strongly objected to kowtowing to Israel or its lobbyists on the issue of Pollard. In October 2002, as the preparations to invade Iraq ramped up, Rumsfeld listed 29 potential problems related to the future war there. One was that in return for supporting American policy, Israel would request Pollard's release.
On March 16, 2001, in preparation for Sharon's visit, Rumsfeld wrote to his president: "Representatives of the Israeli government are coming to Washington DC to meet with you. It is possible that in the meeting you will be asked to take action to free Pollard. Visits from Israelis have frequently included such requests. Indeed it tends to happen repeatedly during the course of an Administration.
"Any step to free Pollard would be enormously damaging to our efforts to keep spies out of our government. As you may recall, George Tenet, to his credit, told President Clinton he would resign if Pollard were freed. I suspect he would feel the same today, and that there would be a number of others concerned about espionage who would feel the same.
"My suggestion would be to come on very forcefully and say not no, but definitely no - no today, tomorrow and the next day, and that it is not a matter that you would consider during your administration. The advantage of being forceful the first time they visit the subject is that it might set them back on their heels and give them pause about bringing the subject up to you ever again. And, more important, it might also give them pause about trying to organize support in the United States to put political pressure on you for such an action, which you don't need.
"I have attached a copy of a letter that I drafted and which I got seven other former Secretaries of Defense to sign to President Clinton opposing such an action, back in 1998."
There are only six signatories to the letter against "the convicted spy Mr. Jonathan Pollard": Cheney from the elder Bush's administration; Caspar Weinberger and Frank Carlucci from the Reagan administration; and Melvin Laird, Elliot Richardson and James Schlesinger from the Nixon and Ford administrations. All were Republicans.
It was reported this week that Henry Kissinger, Rumsfeld's colleague/rival in the Ford administration, has been persuaded to support Pollard's release. Among other reasons for his change of heart, Kissinger makes reference to an alleged position by Weinberger, for which there is neither explanation nor proof. As far as is known, Weinberger, who died in 2006, remained steadfastly opposed to shortening Pollard's sentence. In the public portion of his 1987 court affidavit, on the eve of Pollard's sentencing, Weinberger explained his support for a maximum punishment not only because Pollard had spied and betrayed his country, and had endangered secret sources and intelligence, but also because he declared loyalty to Israel and because of how he behaved after his arrest: saying too much in press interviews, and indicating there was plenty of classified material stored in his head that he would share with anyone who would listen.
The seven former secretaries of defense wrote to Clinton: "As you know, espionage against the United States in this post-Cold War world continues unabated and is seriously damaging the interests of our country. Notwithstanding our strong support for Israel, we believe that granting clemency to Mr. Pollard would encourage those who would harm our country. While it is understandable that the Israeli government would urge a review of this matter, we believe that it would be exceedingly harmful to the interests of the United States of America for you to agree to that request."
Bush, like Clinton, continued to accept this stance in the two years after Rumsfeld was fired and Robert Gates was appointed secretary of defense. Now Rumsfeld is sending a reminder to Barack Obama by publicizing his papers: If you dare give in to the pressure, notable Republicans will accuse you of jeopardizing the country's safety. Support for Israel is one thing - and accepting provocative spying is another.
Since the secretary of defense post came into being after World War II, Rumsfeld was the youngest person to hold it, at 43. At the end of his second term, under Bush, he was also the oldest, at 74.
At the January 2001 hand-over with his predecessor William Cohen, Clinton's secretary of defense, Rumsfeld jotted down handwritten notes, not all of which he could decipher later. Among the 51 items:
"3. Slow progress in Middle East peace process is weakening the coalition against Iraq."
"5. Syria engaged in chemical and biological programs. Bashar Assad is arrogant; sees Israel as weak because of the Lebanon pullout. May underestimate Israel."
"9. Stop Israeli sale of the Falcon to PRC [People's Republic of China]. Israel will try to do it covert. They are transferring UAVs and other things to PRC. They want tomahawks, they want a new relationship with the U.S."
And way down is item 40, "UBL" - Usama Bin Laden. The list was drawn up eight months before 9/11.
As Reagan's envoy to the Middle East in 1983 and 1984, Rumsfeld toured from Beirut to Baghdad. He had a 90-minute conversation with Saddam Hussein, whom Bush and Rumsfeld's emissaries would hunt down and capture, two wars and 20 years later. The focus of that conversation was the Iran-Iraq War, which "Zionism was encouraging to burn." Saddam hated Syria, Iran's ally and Iraq's eternal rival. The Palestinians' situation troubled him less than the idea of laying an Iraqi oil pipeline to the Gulf of Aqaba, on condition that Israel would promise not to attack it.
Rumsfeld dubbed Lebanon "the swamp." Regarding Amin Gemayel he wrote (to Secretary of State George Schultz ), "I went into the meeting with a higher opinion of Gemayel than I had when I left. I admire him for being in Beirut, rather than 'on the Riviera,' but I see more flexibility than spine, more a trading instinct than will, and more softness than strength. ... Possibly a trader, willing to 'play the game' over time, is what is needed."
There were "no surprises" in Israel, he wrote, referring new Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir. "Shamir seems to have the steel in him that a country of that size and history requires. Given Assad's resolve, Israel is lucky it has a Shamir, but that does not mean that Israeli and U.S. interests are always the same."
Exactly two years after this memo was sent to Schultz they caught Pollard, who had offered Israel his services during Shamir's term.
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