Beggars Can't Be Leakers

Israeli dependence on Washington, in the absence of any alternatives, is fundamentally a positive thing, but the cost of its excesses is high, and one of those excesses is the panic about leaks.

The performance is acted out so frequently a suspicion arises that there are stage directions taught and rehearsed at seminars for American ambassadors and military attaches. The Israelis play the role of both actor and audience in Washington, when a delegation enters the conference hall with senior U.S. administration officials, and in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, when an American delegate arrives on a visit.

The American, whether guest or host, pulls out the morning paper from his briefcase, points angrily at a report or an article that reveals sensitive details about the security relations between the two countries, and angrily reprimands the embarrassed Israelis with the words, "We can't work this way."

The performance has impressive results. It causes high-ranking Israelis to stand to attention and to forget whom they are supposed to be serving. In order to prove to the Americans that this is not a question of policy, but only a mishap, Israeli officers and officials are instructed to turn their mouths into a sealed room.

The audience, in the General Staff and in the government, believes it is watching a drama; it refuses to believe this is a comedy. When one reminds an important security figure that much more sensitive material flows in abundance to the American press from administration and military sources, the naive answer is, "Yes, but there everything is under control."

The deputy ministers and the generals who have convinced their Israeli counterparts of this deserve the "Dugan Prize," named after Michael Dugan, the chief of staff of the U.S. Air Force in 1990.

During a long and boring flight to Saudi Arabia, after the capture of Kuwait by Saddam Hussein, Dugan revealed to the press the operational rationale of an aerial campaign against Iraq.

Secretary of Defense Richard Cheney lashed out at him, and found him a convenient victim for a widely publicized dismissal. Dugan was a tool in the hands of Cheney, in his campaign to achieve control of the civilian arm of the arrogant officers' corps, which is entrenched in separate and resource-hungry strongholds of the land, sea and air forces.

What the U.S. secretary of defense fears most is not intelligence in Baghdad, but the support groups of the forces in Congress; Dugan's dismissal was the climax of a move to subjugate the army and to cut it off from its power base on Capitol Hill.

This time, preparations for war in the Persian Gulf are full of newspaper reports regarding operational details, without any violent reaction on the part of Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, although he is Cheney's ideological partner, and a declared enemy of leaks from the Pentagon for similar, internal American reasons.

Publicity in Israel about the relationship between the two countries should not disturb him: His regular avoidance of questions dealing with the placement of U.S. forces in other countries, from Uzbekistan and Qatar through Turkey, are nothing but a way to force those countries to make the revelations.

The war is not only military; it involves politics, economics, propaganda and intelligence. UN delegations do not vote according to ethical considerations alone; one can have an influence on the instructions emerging from the capitals and on the delegates, who like any other person - and in the glass bubble in Manhattan, perhaps more than others - suffer from human weaknesses.

A memo from the parallel organization, the NSE, requesting information about the members of the UN Security Council, was leaked to the weekly Observer magazine by the Government Communications Headquarters in Cheltenham, the British Unit 8200 (an agency specializing in eavesdropping and decoding). A quick investigation led to the arrest of a woman suspected of the leak, but no warnings were heard regarding damage to Washington-London relations. It could be worse, it's one of the risks of the profession.

Israeli dependence on Washington, in the absence of any alternatives, is fundamentally a positive thing, but the cost of its excesses is high, and one of those excesses is the panic about leaks.

There is a great deal of overlap between Israeli and American interests, but they are not identical, and assessment of the American moves and their effect on Israel demands a cool head, at a distance from the warm hug. Israeli intelligence learned this firsthand when it was at the other end of the telescope as the senior partner, opposite the Christian Phalangists in Lebanon and the security apparatus of the Palestinian Authority.