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The recent Pentagon spy affair that did or did not happen should be viewed within four contexts. The first is the factual context. Very soon, we will learn if the CBS report has any real factual basis, or whether the story has been blown entirely out of proportion.

The second context is the long shadow of the Pollard affair. That scandal, which occurred 19 years ago, continues to harm Israel's security and intelligence relations with the United States. It also harms the image of the Jewish community in the eyes of certain parts of the American intelligence and legal communities, who unjustly suspect Jewish candidates and jobholders of giving priority to their loyalty to Israel over absolute fidelity to the United States and American interests.

Even unrelated to the Pollard affair is how some people in the American political system - official bureaucracy, military industry and media - look askance at the intimate relation shared by the United States and Israel, especially in the security sphere. These people have taken the trouble over the years to leak and blow out of proportion various issues, some of which may indeed be problematic. They have led to disagreements between the two countries, and present Israel and its friends in a negative light - in the role of exploiting the United States, biting the hand that feeds it, and damaging American interests.

Affairs such as Irangate, the Phalcon plane, the accusations regarding the transfer of American technologies to China and others that are less known are part of all this. It is important to bear in mind that in some of the cases, Israel's tactlessness and lack of discretion played into the hands of its rivals.

The fourth and most current context relates to the dispute over the war in Iraq. Israel's name was insinuated into this dispute even before the war began, and has repeatedly been mentioned as the extent of the American entanglement has become apparent. The claim is that Israel's neo-conservative friends, some of whom hold key positions in the Bush administration while others exert influence from without, dragged the United States into a war intended to serve Israel's interests.

To this claim is now added a new dimension: It is becoming increasingly evident that the attempt to block Iran's development of nuclear weapons by means of dialogue is doomed to failure. This awareness now raises some difficult questions: Can the United States, Europe, Israel and other countries live with a nuclear Iran? If not, would the United States be willing to use the military option? Or will Israel perhaps find itself forced to do so?

Against this background, it is important to reread the article that William Pfaff published last week in the International Herald Tribune, "Neocons have Iran in their sights." Pfaff latches on to a quote from Norman Podhoretz, "the neo-conservative godfather," as he puts it, who said in interview: "I am not advocating the invasion of Iran at this moment, although-." Pfaff writes, "Israel has an interest in promoting, if not exaggerating, Iran's supposed strategic threat to the United States. Iran already threatens Israel's interest in remaining the unchallenged military power of the region."

In other words, watch out for Podhoretz and his Jewish followers, who may soon drag the United States into an unnecessary military operation against Iran, just as they did with Iraq. The conceptual connection between this argument and affairs of the "Pentagon mole" type is clear and disturbing.

According to Pfaff, if Podhoretz's neocon disciples are able to drag the United States into a war in Iraq, and perhaps Iran too, for the sake of Israeli interests and against its very own, then they cannot be trusted even if they hold key administration positions.

A further extension of this logic would hold that aspersions should be cast on the dialogue Israel's friends are holding with members of Congress and administration officials. These are very serious and dangerous words, especially when written by a veteran columnist in an important newspaper. The assumptions and mood implicit in them mean that Israel and the Jewish community in the United States must take an in-depth look at what is being said and what is merely hinted.

Professor Rabinovich is president of Tel Aviv University, and served as Israel's ambassador to the United States in 1993-1996.