Neither Espionage nor Serious

In their verdict in the case of Brig. Gen (ret.) Yitzhak Yaakov, the judges not only analyzed the behavior of the accused, but - without mentioning names - also cast a critical eye on the work of Yehiel Horev and Edna Arbel.

In their verdict in the case of Brig. Gen (ret.) Yitzhak Yaakov, the judges not only analyzed the behavior of the accused, but - without mentioning names - also cast a critical eye on the work of Yehiel Horev and Edna Arbel.

"It would be best to keep these grave punitive orders," writes Judge Amiram Binyamini about those articles in the charges that dealt with aggravated espionage, and referring to the Defense Ministry's Field Security Unit and the state attorney, "for those cases in which it is clear that the accused acted with intent and desire to harm the security of the state - or regrettably remained indifferent to the results of his actions."

Yaakov's arrest, the preparation of the charge sheet against him, and his prosecution, were a joint project by Horev, the long-time chief of the unit responsible for preventing information leaking out of the defense establishment, and State Attorney Edna Arbel. Everything was done according to the rules, but it turns out that when it comes to matters of security, the government and its representatives have a broad, nearly unlimited mandate to do what they want - and often at the expense of the basic norms of behavior in a democracy.

Horev has done important work. But without any supervision and controls over his actions and intentions he sometimes allows himself to go too far. As someone who believes he is the last obstacle in the way of an erosion of the official policy of ambiguity regarding Israel's nuclear capabilities, Horev allows the unit to take actions that sometimes appear to be based on the belief that the end justifies all means. Such was the case of Dr. Avner Cohen, who wrote a book about Israel's nuclear policies, and such was the case of "Yatza," Yaakov, considered one of the patriarchs of the IDF's use of high-tech. Cohen was hounded by the unit, despite the fact his book was based on open public sources, and to this day the case against him has not been dropped. Yaakov has yet to publish a single word, but that didn't stop the state attorney from putting him on trial for aggravated espionage. In order to deter anyone who would even consider publishing anything about Israel's nuclear policy - even if the author insisted on bringing it to the military censor - Horev lent a hand to the prosecution of a highly respected brigadier on such serious charges.

Not that Yaakov was totally innocent in the affair. He was warned more than once not to show the information in his manuscripts to unauthorized people. Nonetheless, he gave material, that included classified details, to friends and journalists to hear their opinion. But between that and what was done to him is a huge difference. He was secretly arrested, with the arrest itself hidden from public knowledge through sweeping gag orders. His imprisonment was humiliating - he was denied soap and towels brought by his family, on the grounds that it would harm security. When he was held at a medical facility, the state demanded harsh conditions. They prevented his wife from staying with him, fearing he would reveal secrets from his trial. A meal was denied him simply because he shook hands with an acquaintance at the courtroom.

Horev should not be impugned for doing his job, but there must be limits on his activity lest it deviate beyond limits of good judgment about such sensitive cases. If every former senior Defense Ministry official who wrote a book and gave material to acquaintances, or gave away secret information in an interview with a journalist were arrested, the courts in Israel would be busy with those cases alone. If Yaakov is a spy because he gave an interview - despite the fact he demanded the reporter give the report to the censor - then everyone who watched a TV documentary on Israel's nuclear policy a few months ago on Channel One must be asking themselves why Horev's men haven't shown up at Shimon Peres' offices with arrest warrants. The importance of the verdict in Yaakov's case is that the judges put the charges against him in their proper proportion. It wasn't espionage, nor an attempt to harm the security of the state, but a crime that should not be taken lightly, but does not put Yaakov, as Arbel and Horev argued in a claim the court described as outrageous, on the same plane as Mordechai Vanunu.

To put Yaakov's deeds in their proper perspective, Binyamini reminded the prosecution, "The accused did not publish his secret knowledge and there is no dispute he had no intention of publishing anything without the censor's approval." And to deflate the arguments about the terrible threat to state security, the judge wrote: "Giving secret information to a close and trustworthy associate is not the same as distributing it to unknown people, or to the wider public, in such a way that the information can end up in the hands of the enemy."

The court convicted Yaakov on the count of giving classified information to unauthorized people. Hopefully, the state won't try to appeal and will accept the message in the verdict. Yitzhak Yaakov's case once again puts on the agenda the issue of agencies inside the defense establishment that operate in secret, and worse, do so without any controls.