Convicted spy Pollard urges reversal of U.S. parole conditions


Jonathan Pollard, a former U.S. Navy U.S intelligence officer convicted of spying for Israel, asked a judge on Friday to overturn restrictive probation conditions imposed when he was released in November after serving 30 years in prison.

Eliot Lauer, Pollard's lawyer, argued in federal court in Manhattan that the U.S. Parole Commission had imposed arbitrary requirements that he wear an electronic tracking device and submit his work computer to monitoring.

Those conditions were based partly on the grounds that Pollard could still disclose government secrets, which Lauer called inconceivable as his client would need to remember classified information from more than 30 years ago.

“The information is ridiculously stale, and it's the type of information that no human being could reasonably recall,” Lauer told U.S. District Judge Katherine Forrest.

By leaving the computer restriction in place, Lauer said Pollard was being prevented from taking an investment firm job.

But a prosecutor pointed to a letter by U.S. Director of National Intelligence James Clapper stating that documents compromised by Pollard remain classified at the levels of “top secret” and “secret.”

“They do pose a current harm to national security if they are disclosed further,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Rebecca Sol Tinio told the court.

She also said the commission rightly concluded Pollard was a flight risk given he had repeatedly expressed the wish to move to Israel, where his wife lives. Pollard was granted Israeli citizenship in prison and Israel had long pushed for his release. As part of his parole, Pollard must remain in the United States for five years.

Forrest said she planned to rule within four weeks.

Pollard, 61, pleaded guilty in 1986 to conspiracy to commit espionage in connection with his providing Israeli contacts hundreds of classified documents he had obtained as a Naval intelligence specialist in exchange for thousands of dollars.

He was sentenced in 1987 to life in prison. After serving 30 years, which included time in custody following his 1985 arrest, Pollard was released on parole on Nov. 20 from a federal prison in North Carolina and now lives in New York.

Friday's proceedings were the second time Pollard challenged his parole conditions in court.

In December, Forrest ordered the U.S. Parole Commission to provide further justification for the tracking device and computer monitoring. The commission in March upheld the conditions while providing further reasoning.

Jonathan Pollard could still cause damage with what he knows, US intelligence community says


The U.S. intelligence community favors continued restrictions on Jonathan Pollard, arguing that the one-time spy for Israel could still damage U.S. interests by revealing methods and identifying characteristics of U.S. assets.

Intelligence community “sources and methods must be protected from disclosure in every situation where a certain intelligence interest, capability, or technique, if disclosed, would allow our adversaries to take countermeasures to nullify effectiveness,” said the June 17 filing by Jennifer Hudson, the director of information management for the office of the Director of National Intelligence.

The filing, first reported Tuesday by the Daily Beast, was in response to a petition by Pollard’s lawyers to a Manhattan federal court to ease some of Pollard’s parole restrictions. His lawyers have argued that Pollard, a former analyst for the U.S. Navy who was released on parole from his life sentence last November, was jailed 30 years ago and would no longer possess relevant intelligence.

Hudson said Pollard also had access to human intelligence that could still prove harmful should it be disclosed.

“Even though the human resources are not identified by name, both descriptive details about the sources and the very nature of the information provided by the source could tend to reveal the identity since only a limited number of individuals may have had access to that particular information,” she said.

Her filing suggested that assets in place 30 years ago could still face repercussions.

“Revelation of the source’s secret relationship with the U.S. government could cause significant harm to the source, his or her family and his or her associates,” she wrote. “Even in cases where the source is no longer alive, such disclosure can place in jeopardy the lives of individuals with whom the source has had contact.”

Pollard’s lawyers to respond to a request for comment.

The restrictive conditions for Pollard’s five-year parole include wearing an electronic ankle bracelet with GPS tracking and surveillance of his and any employer’s computers. He also is confined to his New York home between 7 p.m. and 7 a.m. — a condition, Pollard’s attorneys argue, that has precluded him from holding a job.

Pollard also is not permitted to join his wife, Esther, who he married while he was in prison, in Israel. He is restricted in his computer and internet use.

Cartoon: For Pollard, the more things change – the more they stay the same


Israeli officials deny report that Israel spied on U.S.-Iran talks


Israeli officials denied a report that Israel spied on closed-door talks held between the United States and Iran over the latter’s nuclear program.

Israel provided the inside information to Republican members of Congress in order to turn them against the deal, The Wall Street Journal reported on Monday night in a story that appeared the next day in the newspaper’s print edition. The story cited anonymous “current and former U.S. officials.”

“It is one thing for the U.S. and Israel to spy on each other. It is another thing for Israel to steal U.S. secrets and play them back to U.S. legislators to undermine U.S. diplomacy,” a senior U.S. official told the newspaper, indicating that it was not so much the alleged spying that angered the White House but the meddling in its relations with Congress.

The White House discovered that Israel was collecting information when U.S. intelligence agencies spying on Israel intercepted communications among Israeli officials that included details of the confidential talks, U.S. officials told the newspaper.

Among the pieces of classified information collected by Israel was the number of centrifuges that Iran could keep operating as part of the final deal.

Israeli officials told The Wall Street Journal that the country’s intelligence services did not spy directly on the American negotiators, but rather that they found the information through surveillance of Iran and other world powers involved in the negotiations, as well as from some of the world powers themselves.

An unnamed senior official in Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office told the newspaper that the accusations were “utterly false.” The newspaper said it also interviewed Israeli diplomats, intelligence officials and lawmakers.

Israel’s outgoing foreign minister, Avigdor Liberman, in an interview Tuesday with Army Radio denied the allegations.

“Of course, Israel has various security interests, and it is clear that we have good intelligence services. But we don’t spy on the United States,” he said.

Liberman indicated that Israel may have spied on Iran or other negotiating partners.

“We got our intelligence from other sources, not from the United States,” he said. “The instruction has been clear for decades now: You don’t spy on the United States, directly or indirectly.”

German magazine reports Israel spied on Kerry last year


German magazine Der Spiegel reported on Sunday that Israel and at least one other intelligence agency were listening in on U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry's unsecured phone calls last year when he was holding nearly daily negotiations for peace with various leaders in the Middle East.

The magazine cited “several sources from intelligence circles” as saying that although Kerry has a secure phone at his mansion in Georgetown, while he was traveling and needed to make a quick phone call, he sometimes used an ordinary telephone that the intelligence agencies listened in on.

“A large number of these conversations, which went via satellite, were listened to by at least two intelligence agencies, including the Israelis,” the magazine wrote. “It is probable that the Russians and Chinese were also listening in.”

The magazine said that Israel thus often knew precisely what Kerry was talking to the other sides about. Kerry, the magazine said, was aware of the risks but he wanted results and personal conversations were more important to him than concerns from his security advisers.

The magazine said that Israel and the State Department in Washington had no comment on their report.

Reporting By Erik Kirschbaum; Editing by Sandra Maler

Jonathan Pollard case is about America


America is far from being an anti-Semitic country. In fact, it might be the first country in Jewish history where it’s actually “cool” to be Jewish. That’s one reason I’ve been so reluctant over the years to weigh in on the Jonathan Pollard affair — I’m so in love with this country and all it’s done for the Jews that the last thing I want is to appear ungrateful or, worse, disloyal.

Having said that, however, after a while it gets harder and harder to ignore what looks like blatant discrimination against a Jewish man who in 1987 pleaded guilty to spying for Israel. How else to explain the U.S. government’s harsh treatment of Pollard?

Of the millions of things that have been said about this case, one fact, for me, stands out the most: The government reneged on the deal it made with Pollard.

This point was flagrantly absent in a recent New York Times op-ed written by M.E. Bowman, a U.S. official directly involved in the Pollard case who continues to defend Pollard’s life sentence.

As Alan Dershowitz responded on the Times’ Web site, “M.E. Bowman fails to tell his readers that when Mr. Pollard entered into his plea bargain, the United States government solemnly represented to the court that a sentence of less than life imprisonment would satisfy the needs of justice.”

Nothing Bowman writes in his editorial explains or even refers to this injustice.

“That solemn representation,” Dershowitz writes, “was the quid pro quo for Pollard’s plea of guilty. It violates both the letter and the spirit of that plea bargain for Mr. Bowman, who was a justice department official at the time, now to urge that Pollard must serve the life sentence imposed on him by the court despite the government having sought a sentence that Pollard has already completed.”

Of course, based on historical and legal precedent, it made plenty of sense for prosecutors not to seek a life sentence for Pollard.

As historian Gil Troy documented a few years ago, “Spies for other allies, like Saudi Arabia, South Africa, Egypt and the Philippines, served anywhere from two to four years, with maximum sentences of 10 years.”

Even two American traitors who spied for the Soviet enemy during the Cold War, Sgt. Clayton Lonetree and FBI agent Richard Miller, served sentences of nine years and 13 years, respectively.

The well-known story that former Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger had it in for Pollard and pushed for a life sentence with the sentencing judge may explain the government’s betrayal, but it hardly justifies it.

So, given that Pollard is now serving his 29th year behind bars, it’s not paranoid for Troy to wonder: “Pollard’s extreme sentence — along with the continuing refusal to free him — has raised questions about official American anti-Semitism and whether Pollard is enduring harsher punishment for the crime of being an American Jew spying for Israel.”

Despite all this evidence of discrimination and unfairness, the mainstream Jewish community has generally been reluctant to dirty its hands with this case. If anything, it has gone out of its way not to defend Pollard, lest it be accused of dual loyalty. 

But what so many in our community have missed is that even more than anti-Semitism, the Pollard case is one of anti-Americanism.

Pollard should have been released years ago because discrimination and unfairness are anti-American ideas.

As Judge Stephen Williams wrote in one of Pollard’s failed appeals, the government’s treatment of Pollard is “a fundamental miscarriage of justice.”

It’s no coincidence that prominent non-Jews, including former Secretary of State George Shulz and former CIA Director James Woolsey, as well as political leaders from both parties, have been lobbying for his release.

They’re not lobbying because Pollard is a hero. He’s not. He’s a criminal. But in America, even criminals have rights, and those rights can get violated.

The Pollard affair is no longer about the darkness of his crime — it’s about the violation of his rights.

Jews must have enough faith in the American system to advocate for Pollard’s rights without feeling the paranoia of dual loyalty.

Those who are finally lobbying for his release on the basis of compassion — focusing on his worsening health — are not doing him any favors. This case doesn’t revolve around compassion; it revolves around justice run amok. As Troy writes, “Justice when applied too zealously becomes unjust.”

You can hate Pollard because of what he did. You can hate him for making you cringe in embarrassment. You can hate him for making American Jews look disloyal to this amazing country.

But if you really want to show your loyalty to America, in my book there’s no better way than to show loyalty to America’s values. And what American value is greater and more honorable than “justice for all”?

The very greatness of this country is that it puts values ahead of men. The values of fairness and justice for Jonathan Pollard are a lot more important than who he is — even if you think he’s a shameful Jew.


David Suissa is president of TRIBE Media Corp./Jewish Journal and can be reached at davids@jewishjournal.com.

Snowden denies he got help from Russia in leaking U.S. secrets


Former U.S. spy agency contractor Edward Snowden said he acted alone in leaking U.S. government secrets and that suggestions by some U.S. lawmakers he might have had help from Russia were “absurd,” the New Yorker magazine reported on Tuesday.

In an interview the magazine said was conducted by encrypted means from Moscow, Snowden was quoted as saying, “This 'Russian spy' push is absurd.”

Snowden said he “clearly and unambiguously acted alone, with no help from anyone, much less a government,” the New Yorker said.

“It won't stick. … Because it's clearly false, and the American people are smarter than politicians think they are,” the publication quoted Snowden as saying.

The head of the U.S. House of Representatives Intelligence Committee said on Sunday he was investigating whether Snowden had help from Russia in stealing and revealing U.S. government secrets.

“I believe there's a reason he ended up in the hands – the loving arms – of an FSB agent in Moscow. I don't think that's a coincidence,” Representative Mike Rogers told NBC's “Meet the Press,” referring to the Russian intelligence agency that is a successor of the Soviet-era KGB.

Rogers did not provide specific evidence to back his suggestions of Russian involvement in Snowden's activities, but said, “Some of the things we're finding we would call clues that certainly would indicate to me that he had some help.”

Snowden fled the United States last year to Hong Kong and then to Russia, where he was granted at least a year of asylum. U.S. officials want him returned to the United States for prosecution. His disclosures of large numbers of stolen U.S. secret documents sparked a debate around the world about the reach of U.S. electronic surveillance.

Other U.S. security officials told Reuters as recently as last week that the United States had no evidence that Snowden had any confederates who assisted him or guided him about what National Security Agency materials to hack or how to do so.

Snowden told the New York Times in October he did not take any secret NSA documents with him to Russia when he fled there in June 2013. “There's a zero percent chance the Russians or Chinese have received any documents,” Snowden told the Times.

Snowden said in the New Yorker interview that if he were a Russian spy, “Why Hong Kong?” and why was he stuck for a lengthy period in Moscow's airport before being allowed to stay in the country.

“Spies get treated better than that,” he said.

Reporting by Peter Cooney; Editing by Lisa Shumaker

Israel is the leader in producing drones


This story originally ran on themedialine.org.

Unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV’s) are being used in conflicts all over the world, and military analysts say their use is only expected to increase. With the clear advantage of not needing pilots, who can be shot down or captured, sophisticated drones can perform many of the same tasks as manned aircraft.

“The Heron, made by Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) can carry several payloads at the same time — it’s a multi-mission multi-payload UAV,” Dan Bichman, a consultant for IAI and a reserve pilot in the Israeli Airforce told The Media Line as he proudly showed off the large drone. “Once I’m in the air, I can carry simultaneously 4 or 5 different payloads, and I can conduct a mission using all of them at the same time which is very unique in the UAV world. Another advantage is that I can stay in the air for up to 50 hours.”

Bichman said the US, France and Germany are all using Israeli-made Herons in Afghanistan to fly spy missions. He said several other countries have bought the systems, but he refused to give details.

He was speaking at a recent UAV conference in this Tel Aviv suburb, where more than 1500 drone buyers and sellers came together. They came to watch live demonstrations, meet with manufacturers, and compare prices. There was a significant representation from Asia, especially China and Singapore, although both journalists and buyers refused to be interviewed.

“This is the first international conference in the world that shows in one place unmanned systems in the air, on the ground, and on water,” Arieh Egozi, the editor of the IhLS, Israel Homeland Security website and the conference organizer told The Media Line. “Israel is a superpower in unmanned systems. They started with unmanned aerial systems and they have been flying now for more than 40 years.”

IAI announced that its systems have accumulated more than one million operational flight hours.

He said that Israel, which is the leading manufacturer in the world of UAV systems, has a range of systems.

“Israel has developed some systems as small as a butterfly, and others, like the Heron TP, which has a wingspan of 37 meters, which is like a Boeing 737,” Egozi said.

He stood in front of a large vehicle called an Air Mule, currently under development.

“The job of this system is to bring water and ammunition to the front line, and to evacuate wounded soldiers,” he said. “In the Lebanon war (of 2006) a helicopter was shot down when it tried to rescue wounded soldiers. If you use unmanned systems you don’t endanger any pilots.” 

These systems do not come cheap. Israel’s defense exports last year topped 10 billion dollars. Some of the larger drones cost several million dollars depending on what kind of cameras they are fitted with. At the Israeli booths offering systems for sale, former generals abound.

“We are a start-up company and we have developed a revolutionary vehicle called the Hovermast,” Gabi Shachor, a retired air force general and CEO of Skysapience told The Media Line. “It sits on a vehicle and with the push of a button the doors open and the Hovermast rises up to 50 meters. Within seconds you get real time video into your vehicle. Because it’s tethered to a vehicle by cable, it can stay up as long as you like – six hours or two days.”

He says the Israeli army has bought two systems for operational evaluations and his company are currently selling more, at about one million per system.

“If you buy a lot, I can give you a very good price,” he says laughing.

He says Israel sees the future of combat in UAVs.

“Israel is already leading in this area and UAV’s will do more and more of what is done today by manned platforms,” he said. “There’s no risk, since there’s no pilot. You can stay airborne for a long time. A pilot can’t stay up that long.”

Looking around the conference hall, there were very few women in evidence. Ofra Bechor, a field application engineer for Green Hills software, a US company which has a branch in Israel, says the UAV field is dominated by men.

“Software and defense are fields that have a lot of men,” she told The Media Line. “I’ve never been discriminated against because I’m a woman but I have been ignored when there are men around.”

Iranian man arrested, charged with spying for Israel


Iran arrested a man and charged him with spying for Israel, an Iranian news agency reported.

The man was arrested in southeastern Iran allegedly contacted the Israeli embassy in Bangkok, Thailand, in order to pass information, the semi-official Mehr news agency reported Monday. He reportedly was in Thailand on business.

Mehr, which did not give the man’s name or report when he was arrested, is the only Iranian news outlet reporting the arrest and charges, according to Reuters.

Spying is punishable by death in Iran.

Iran has arrested two dozen people in recent years on charges of spying or acting on behalf of Israel.

The announcement of the arrest comes days after Israel arrested a haredi Orthodox Israeli from the anti-Zionist Neturei Karta sect and charged him with offering to spy for Iran. The man reportedly has confessed to the allegations in the indictment.

Anat Kamm sues Haaretz newspaper for exposing her as source


Anat Kamm, the Israeli soldier who was jailed for turning classified Israeli military documents over to a reporter, is suing the Israeli daily Haaretz and journalist Uri Blau for revealing her identity.

Kamm filed a lawsuit Thursday with the Tel Aviv District Court, asking for $716,000 and lawyer's fees. She reportedly claims that Haaretz exposed her to Shin Bet scrutiny and criminal proceedings, and thus owes her the compensation.

She was convicted in February 2011 of collecting, holding and passing on classified information without authorization. An espionage charge was dropped as part of a plea bargain.

Arrested in late 2009 or early 2010, Kamm admitted to stealing about 2,000 documents, hundreds identified as classified or top secret, which she downloaded to two discs, while serving her mandatory military service in the Israeli army in the Central Command. She gave the information to  Blau, a Haaretz reporter who wrote stories based on the information that was approved by the military censor. The stories led to a search for Blau's source.

Blau served a four-month suspended prison sentence, which he served through community service, for accepting the information,

Following her military service, Kamm was a media reporter for Walla, an online news site that at the time was partly owned by Haaretz. She has been in the Neve Tirzah women's prison since November 2011.

Report: ‘Prisoner X’ spy Ben Zygier tipped off Hezbollah


The man known as “Prisoner X” unwittingly caused the arrest of two Hezbollah supporters who were spying for Israel, a German magazine claims.

Ben Zygier, the Australian-Israeli who allegedly was a Mossad agent, leaked highly classified information in a botched attempt to recruit a spy for the agency, according to an expose in Der Spiegel.

Zygier, who had been returned from the field to a desk job at Mossad headquarters, was attempting to restore his reputation at the spy agency by attempting to turn an enemy into an ally, the magazine wrote.

In the end, however, Hezbollah managed to extract from him the names of two Lebanese men working for the Mossad — Ziad al-Homsi and Mustafa Ali Awadeh — who were arrested in 2009 and sentenced to 15 years in jail, the magazine said.

The report said Zygier started working with the Mossad in 2003 but was ordered back to Israel in 2007 because he was not delivering for the agency. He returned to Melbourne and operated independently in an attempt to restore his reputation, the magazine claimed. But as he tried to prove his bona fides to a man linked to Hezbollah who he wanted to become a double agent, he was the one who became the double agent, leaking the classified information.

On Dec. 15, 2010, the 34-year-old father of two was found dead in his Tel Aviv cell. Reports said he hung himself.

Report: Zygier may have told Australian intelligence about Mossad ops


Suspected Israeli spy Ben Zygier may have given detailed information about his work to Australian intelligence, leading to his arrest and imprisonment in Israel, according to an Australian news program.

The Australian Broadcasting Corp.'s “Foreign Correspondent” reported Monday that Zygier met with Australia's domestic intelligence agency, the Australian Security Intelligence Organization, or ASIO, and provided details about Israel's Mossad secret service operations, including a top-secret mission in Italy that had taken years to plan.

Zygier, a Melbourne native, visited Australia often with his wife and children, and enrolled in a master's in business administration program at Montash University in that city. It was during one of those visits that he had contact with Australian intelligence, “Foreign Correspondent” reported, and also applied for a visa to Italy.

Zygier, who was known as Prisoner X as well as Ben Alon, was the subject of an expose by “Foreign Correspondent” that reported Feb. 12 that he was jailed in early 2010 and apparently committed suicide in the high-security Ayalon Prison near Tel Aviv. The report suggested that he worked with the Mossad.

Following the report, internal investigations on his case were initiated in Israel and Australia.

Zygier was one of three Australian Jews who changed their names several times, receiving new passports for travel in the Middle East and Europe allegedly for their work for the Mossad, according to the news program. He was buried in Melbourne, where he attended day school.

Mystery Australian’s next-of-kin seek compensation from Israel


Relatives of an Australian immigrant to Israel who killed himself in 2010 while secretly jailed on charges of violating national security are seeking compensation from the state, a source briefed on the affair said on Friday.

The source said the talks were preliminary as Israel had not formally faulted its prison authorities in the death of Ben Zygier, which was made public this week by an Australian television expose that described him as a Mossad officer.

A Mossad link has been neither denied nor confirmed by Australia or Israel, where military censorship and court gag orders kept many details of the case from the media.

The silence has fanned media speculation that Israel believes the 34-year-old Melbourne Jew had betrayed its intelligence agency's high-stakes work abroad.

The office of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, which oversees the Mossad, did not respond for a request for comment on the matter.

Israel's Haaretz daily said the state agreed to pay “several million shekels” in damages to Zygier's family around six weeks ago, when an internal inquest declared his death a suicide.

The inquest result was disclosed by the Justice Ministry on Wednesday, in Israel's only official statement on the case. The statement, which did not identify Zygier by name, said a judge had also ordered an “evaluation regarding issues of negligence”.

A source briefed on the affair denied there had been any agreement to compensate Zygier's family for the failure of staff to prevent his suicide at Ayalon prison, where he had been held for months, under alias and in isolation from other inmates.

“There's no decision on negligence yet, so there's no compensation in any form in that regard,” the source told Reuters on condition of anonymity. “What there have been are initial inquiries by the deceased's representatives about compensation.”

“GRAVE CRIMES”

A Zygier family lawyer, Moshe Mazur, declined to comment, citing the sensitivity of the case.

So did Israel's Prisons Service. But one of its officials voiced skepticism about the idea of compensation being agreed with Zygier's family, saying such payouts in negligence cases could take “years” to negotiate.

Avigdor Feldman, an Israeli lawyer with whom Zygier briefly consulted while in prison, said he knew of no compensation deal.

Were the state to pay damages for negligence, he said, it would not reflect any official position on Zygier's guilt or innocence: “Even convicted criminals are eligible for compensation if their jailers fail to provide for their well-being as required.”

Feldman said Zygier died after being indicted for “grave crimes” but before being tried. Zygier had denied the charges against him but was considering a plea bargain, Feldman said.

Australian Foreign Minister Bob Carr said on Thursday that Canberra was told Zygier had been held over “serious offences under Israeli national security legislation”.

Feldman told Israeli radio on Thursday that a “Mossad liaison” contact had arranged his with Zygier.

The Age, a Melbourne newspaper, said in a report citing Australian security officials that Zygier may have been in contact with the intelligence services of his native country and “been about to blow the whistle” about Mossad operations – including their possible fraudulent use of Australian passports.

A veteran intelligence officer who declined to be identified by name or nationality said there was a possibility that, had Zygier indeed served Mossad, the agency would have paid death benefits to his family – regardless of the charges against him.

“If he was never tried, then he was never found guilty, and he may be considered to have died while in active service,” the intelligence veteran said. “That would make his next-of-kin eligible to the various relevant payouts.”

The Hebrew word for compensation, “pitzuim”, can also be used for benefits paid without claims of misconduct.

Writing by Dan Williams; Editing by Giles Elgood

Israeli lawyer sheds some light on Australian spy mystery


An Australian immigrant, reported to have been recruited by Israel's Mossad spy agency, was charged with grave crimes before he committed suicide in an Israeli jail, one of his lawyers said on Thursday.

The closely guarded case has raised questions in Australia and Israel about the suspected use by the Mossad of dual Australian-Israeli nationals and the circumstances behind the 2010 detention and death of 34-year-old Ben Zygier.

Israel on Wednesday broke its silence over an Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) report which said that Zygier, who moved to Israel, was jailed in isolation over suspected misconduct while spying for the Mossad.

Partially lifting a gag order on the case, an Israeli court said a dual-nationality citizen had been imprisoned secretly under a false name for “security reasons”, and found dead in his cell in what was eventually ruled a suicide.

Israeli criminal attorney Avigdor Feldman said he met with the man, dubbed “Prisoner X”, a day before his death.

“I met with a balanced person, given the tragic outcome, who was rationally weighing his legal options,” Feldman told Channel 10 Television.

He said the detainee was charged with “grave crimes” and that there were ongoing negotiations for a plea bargain. The attorney did not elaborate on the allegations, which he said the prisoner denied. Reporting in Israel on the case is still subject to strict government censorship.

The Kuwaiti newspaper Al Jarida quoted on Thursday unidentified Western sources as saying Zygier took part in the killing by a Mossad hit-team of Hamas operative Mahmoud al-Mahbouh in Dubai in 2010.

Zygier, the newspaper reported, offered Dubai information about the operation in return for the emirate's protection.

Offering a different version, Australia's Fairfax Media said Australian security officials suspected Zygier may have been about to disclose Israeli intelligence operations, including the use of fraudulent Australian passports, either to the Canberra government or to the media before his arrest.

“His interrogators told him he could expect lengthy jail- time and be ostracized from his family and the Jewish community,” Feldman said. “There was no heart string they did not pull, and I suppose that ultimately brought about the tragic end.”

In a separate interview Feldman appeared to inadvertently confirm the man was a Mossad spy.

“The Mossad liaison I was in touch with informed me that, unfortunately, my client was no longer alive,” Feldman told Kol Barama Radio. Israel has neither denied nor confirmed that “Prisoner X” was a Mossad officer.

The jailhouse suicide of Zygier has focused attention on the agency's recruitment of foreign-born Jews who could spy under cover of their native passports.

SUSPICIONS

Australian media have reported that Zygier had been one of at least three Australian-Israeli dual nationals under investigation by the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation over suspicions of espionage for Israel.

Australia complained to Israel in 2010 after Dubai said forged Australian passports were used by the Mossad squad. Mahbouh's killers, authorities in the emirate said, also had also had British, Irish, French and German passports.

Mossad is widely reputed to have stepped up its shadow war in recent years against Iran's nuclear program, Lebanon's Hezbollah guerrillas, suspected nuclear procurement by Syria and arms smuggling to Palestinians through Dubai, Sudan and Egypt.

In an apparent reversal from previous statements, Australian Foreign minister Bob Carr said on Thursday his ministry had known about Zygier's jailing in Israel as early as February 2010. On Wednesday he said Australian diplomats in Israel only found out about the detention after his death in custody later that year.

Israel's Justice Ministry said a court has ordered an inquiry into possible negligence in Zygier's death.

Zygier, who came from a prominent Jewish family in Australia and was also known as Ben Alon and Ben Allen, was buried in Melbourne. He had been married with two young children. His relatives have declined all comment on the case.

(Writing by Maayan Lubell and Dan Williams; Editing by Jeffrey Heller/Mark Heinrich)

Israel struggles to keep cloak of secrecy over spy story


The mysterious death of an Australian prisoner in Israel has put the spotlight on a military-run censorship system that is finding it harder to black out secret information often only a mouse click away on the Internet.

The case involves a man reported by Australia's ABC channel on Tuesday to have been a member of Israel's Mossad spy agency. According to the report, he committed suicide in prison in 2010 in an isolated top-security wing originally built for the assassin of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin.

Why the man, identified by ABC as Ben Zygier, an immigrant to Israel, was jailed is still a closely guarded secret, and reports dealing with matters of state security must be submitted to military censors for vetting.

In a highly unusual move within hours of the ABC broadcast, Israeli editors were summoned to an emergency meeting in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's office and asked not to publish a story “that is very embarrassing to a certain government agency”, Israel's Haaretz newspaper reported.

Israeli news outlets that had carried the report scrambled to remove it from their websites, but that only drew attention to the case. Chatter ran rampant on Twitter and Facebook, offering polyglot Israelis links to foreign news sites.

For decades, journalists in Israel have been required to sign an undertaking to abide by military censorship rules when they apply for accreditation from the government press office. Reporters risk being denied press cards and, in the case of foreigners, work visas if they violate the regulations.

“You either work with us, or you work abroad,” a military censor, cautioning against reporting where Palestinian rockets were landing in Israel, warned a Reuters correspondent during an eight-day Gaza war in November.

SHAME

In the age of the Internet, efforts by Israel to put the genie back in the bottle proved fruitless.

“People in the state, in the Shin Bet (internal security agency) and the courts conduct themselves as if we were still in the stone age,” said Avigdor Feldman, an Israeli attorney whose clients have included nuclear whistle-blower Mordechai Vanunu.

Vanunu, a former technician in Israel's top secret Dimona nuclear reactor told Britain's Sunday Times newspaper in 1986 that atomic bombs were produced at the facility. He was jailed as a traitor and served 18 years in prison.

“These things are ultimately revealed. People talk, and not just on the Internet. The tight-lip that once typified this country is no longer … all the gag orders just shame the courts and the country,” he told Reuters.

Aluf Benn, editor of Israel's liberal Haaretz newspaper, said Israeli security authorities and judges who issue gag orders at their request find it hard to come to terms with the concept of a free media operating in a democracy.

“For (Mossad chief Tamir) Pardo and his ilk, the Israeli media are a branch of the state … that is why we are forced absurdly to quote foreign news sources about military operations, intelligence snafus and clandestine trials,” Benn wrote in a commentary in his newspaper.

“Generation after generation, the military censor has explained to reporters that anything published by an Israeli outlet is seen by the international community as an official statement, whereas reports by foreign news sources are not.”

So when controversial incidents take place, such as an attack on Syria last month that the Damascus government said was carried out by the Israeli air force, Israeli media are banned from publishing their own information.

And while Israel's nuclear arms have been an open secret for decades, reference to the arsenal has always been attributed in the local press to “foreign reports”.

Curiously, the case of “Prisoner X” was deemed so sensitive that for almost 24 hours the authorities tried to prevent any word seeping out into the local media.

They finally raised the white flag after left-wing and Arab legislators used their parliamentary immunity to demand explanations about the affair on the floor of the Knesset, enabling Israeli papers to at least allude to the story.

On Tuesday the gag orders were eased to allow the media to carry foreign reports of the case, but the censors told journalists not to identify the dead man's wife and two children – information that is readily available on the Internet.

Gad Shimron, a former Mossad officer who writes on intelligence matters, told Reuters he had no knowledge about Zygier, “but in the 21st century, in the age of Facebook and Twitter, I simply don't believe such secrecy can be maintained”.

Additional reporting by Maayan Lubell, Dan Williams and Crispian Balmer; Editing by Alison Williams

Hamas executes 6 suspected Israel collaborators


Masked gunmen publicly shot dead six suspected collaborators with Israel in a large Gaza City intersection Tuesday, witnesses said. An Associated Press reporter saw a large mob surrounding five of the bloodied corpses shortly after the killing.Hamas' military wing claimed responsibility.

Some in the crowd stomped and spit on the bodies. A sixth corpse was tied to a motorcycle and dragged through the streets as people screamed, “Spy! Spy!”

The Hamas military wing, Izzedine al-Qassam, claimed responsibility in a large handwritten note attached to a nearby electricity pole. Hamas said the six were killed because they gave Israel information about fighters and rocket launching sites.

Read more at Haaretz.com.

Knesset members urge Romney to release Pollard


Knesset leaders sent a letter to Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney urging him to grant clemency to Jonathan Pollard if elected president.

The letter, according to The Jerusalem Post, was similar to letters sent to former President Bill Clinton and current Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. It asks Romney for the “immediate release” of Pollard, who was convicted of spying on the U.S. for Israel, upon Romney’s taking office.

Every non-Arab party leader in Knesset signed the letter.

“We, the heads of the Knesset factions, the elected representatives of the citizens of Israel, want to bring a deeply painful issue to your attention, the plight of Jonathan Pollard,” the letter stated, according to the Post. “It is not disputed that Jonathan Pollard broke the law and he deserved to be punished.

“Nevertheless, the citizens of Israel are united in their request for his immediate release on humanitarian grounds. He has served nearly 27 years in prison and his health has deteriorated to a point that is life-threatening.”

Romney has said that he is “open to examining” the Pollard issue, though he did not mention Pollard during his recent trip to Israel.

Iran accuses IAEA of demanding Parchin visit to spy


Iran will not allow the United Nations nuclear watchdog to visit Iran’s Parchin military complex, accusing inspectors of being “Western spies.”

Iranian lawmaker Evaz Heidarpour told the national media that the United States and Western countries were trying to gain access to Iran’s military secrets by sending representatives of the International Atomic Energy Agency to inspect the complex.

“Parchin industries are non-nuclear military industries and we will not allow Western spies to inspect our military technology,” he said Sunday, according to the Tehran Times.

The IAEA has insisted on visiting the site in advance of negotiations between the Islamic Republic and six world powers—the United States, France, Russia, China, Britain and Germany—scheduled to take place in Moscow.

In a report last year, the IAEA said it believed that Iran had built a containment chamber at Parchin in which to conduct high-explosives tests.

Earlier this month, new satellite imagery analyzed by a U.S. security think tank showed that Iran may be clearing nuclear evidence from the chamber.

In March, satellite images obtained by the IAEA reportedly showed what appeared to be crews and vehicles cleaning up radioactive evidence of tests of a device used to create a nuclear explosion, The Associated Press reported.

Peres sends letter to Obama requesting Pollard clemency


Israeli President Shimon Peres sent a personal letter to President Obama requesting clemency for Jonathan Pollard.

The letter, sent Monday, cited Pollard’s severe health situation in requesting that he be released from Butner Federal Correctional Complex in North Carolina, where he is serving a life sentence for spying for Israel.

The letter was delivered to Obama via U.S. Ambassador Dan Shapiro. Obama received the letter Monday afternoon, Haaretz reported.

Pollard reportedly was rushed to a hospital outside of the prison on the eve of Passover suffering from an unspecified emergency condition. He has suffered from a variety of illnesses since being imprisoned in 1986.

Obama announced last month that he would award Peres with the Presidential Medal of Freedom in June; a petition signed by more than 35,000 Israelis has called on Peres to link the awarding of the medal to clemency for Pollard. Former captive Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit signed the petition last week.

Peres on Monday also received a petition signed by 80 Israeli lawmakers calling on Obama to release Pollard, according to reports.

Peres met Sunday with Pollard’s wife, Esther, who appealed to the president to request her husband’s release “before it is too late.”

“I appeal to you as Jonathan’s wife so that you might use your influence because I do not want to be his widow,” Esther Pollard reportedly told Peres on Sunday. “Jonathan’s strength is slipping away, and I do not know what will happen the next time I receive a telephone call about his health problems.”

Report: Pollard hospitalized, then returned to prison


Jonathan Pollard reportedly was hospitalized at a facility off his prison campus.

Israel radio and representatives of Pollard’s wife reported Friday that Pollard was taken to a facility outside the Butner Federal Correctional Complex, the prison complex in North Carolina where he is serving a life sentence for spying for Israel.

Butner has a medical facility, suggesting Pollard had suffered an emergency condition that could not be treated by a conventional clinic, said Aaron Troodler, a spokesman for the campaign to release him.

Pollard, 57,apparently has since returned to the prison; an official at Butner told JTA on Friday that he was in his regular prison facility.

Pollard’s wife Esther had yet to reach him since learning of his hospitalization, Troodler said, and she called on his supporters to pray for his recovery and health.

Pollard, who has been imprisoned since 1986, reportedly has suffered from a variety of illnesses.

“There are many reasons to release him,” Troodler said. “This latest episode highlights how important the health factor is.”

Spy boss: Iran more likely to hit on U.S. soil


Iran’s leadership has shown itself more willing to carry out attacks on American soil, the U.S. intelligence chief told Congress.

“The 2011 plot to assassinate the Saudi ambassador to the United States shows that some Iranian officials—probably including Supreme Leader Ali Khameini—have changed their calculus and are now more willing to conduct an attack in the United States in response to real or perceived U.S. actions that threaten the regime,” James Clapper, the director of national intelligence, told the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence in an unclassified written threat assessment delivered during the committee’s hearings on Tuesday.

The United States in recent months has led an international intensification of sanctions and also raised its military profile in the Persian Gulf. Clapper said Iran is “expanding its uranium enrichment capabilities,” strengthening the U.S. intelligence agencies’ assessment that “Iran has the scientific, technical and industrial capacity to eventually produce nuclear weapons.”

However, he also said that intelligence services “do not know” if Iran will eventually build nuclear weapons. The central issue, he said, is “its political will to do so.”

Clapper noted increased domestic unrest in Iran and infighting in its political elites.

He also said that “Iran’s economy is weighed down by international sanctions,” but added a caveat: “Despite this, Iran’s economic difficulties will probably not jeopardize the regime, absent a sudden and sustained fall in oil prices or a sudden domestic crisis that disrupts oil exports.”

Australian citizen admits to spying for Hamas


An Australian citizen pleaded guilty to charges of spying for Hamas.

Eyad Rashid Abu Arja, who is Palestinian-born and holds dual Jordanian citizenship, was detained in Tel Aviv in March on charges of “activities on behalf of an illegal organization”.

Hamas is classified as a terrorist group under Israeli law.

Under the terms of a plea bargain submitted to an Israeli court, Arja admitted to espionage for the Gaza-based group while on a visit to Israel.

He had been coerced into the mission by Hamas operatives in Saudi Arabia, his attorney, Leah Tsemel, said. “He’s a person who bumped into activists of the Hamas and attempted, or rendered some very, very shallow services to them. He’s in no way a terrorist,” she told the Australian Broadcasting Corp. Monday.


Arja, a computer scientist, is expected to be sentenced on Jan. 5 to 30 months in prison.

The indictment cites photographing commercial centers, collecting maps and making contact with businesses in Israel, according to an Agence France Press report.

Jewish leaders meet Biden in Thanksgiving week appeal for Pollard


Four drug dealers, a trafficker in stolen goods, a gambler and a turkey made President Obama’s Thanksgiving freedom list, but Israel’s best-known spy did not.

But advocates of releasing Jonathan Pollard aren’t giving up hope. Seven Jewish leaders who met Monday with Vice President Joe Biden said they were “encouraged” after more than an hour of back and forth.

A statement issued jointly by the seven groups noted that Biden had invited the group in response to their earlier request for a meeting. It described the meeting and exchange as “meaningful and productive.”

That was all any participant said, although Abraham Foxman, the Anti-Defamation League’s national director, emphasized—as others did, off the record—that the phrase “meaningful and productive” was more than boilerplate.

Foxman says he has an Israeli staffer who asks him after every meeting,  “Haya kedai?”—“Was it worth it?”

“I told him it was worth it,” Foxman said.

One measure of the seriousness of the conversation was how long it lasted—more than an hour, in Biden’s White House office.

Another was the composition of the Jewish group, representing three major streams of Judaism and the spectrum of pro-Israel outlook.

In addition to Foxman, those in attendance included Michael Adler, vice chairman of the board of trustees of the Jewish Federations of North America; Rabbi Steve Gutow, president of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, the Jewish community’s public policy umbrella; Malcolm Hoenlein, executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, the foreign policy umbrella; Simcha Katz, president of the Orthodox Union; Rabbi Julie Schonfeld, executive vice president of the Conservative movement’s Rabbinical Assembly; and Rabbi Eric Yoffie, president of the Union for Reform Judaism.

The day before, Pollard’s wife, Esther, said in a statement that her husband, who is said to suffer from an array of grave medical problems, may not survive another year in prison.

“In the last year, as Jonathan’s [medical] condition became worse, he was too weak to even sit through a one-hour visit. I feel he’s withering away in front of my very eyes,” Esther Pollard said in the statement.

She added that after “26 years, all his systems are feeble and we both know that the next emergency hospitalization or operation are just a matter a time, and that no one is promising us he’ll make it through.”

Pollard has been hospitalized four times this year.

Biden promised last month at a holiday reception at his home that he would meet with Jewish leaders on the Pollard case after telling a group of rabbis at a meeting in Florida that “President Obama was considering clemency, but I told him, ‘Over my dead body are we going to let him out before his time.’ “

The movement to free Pollard has gathered steam in recent months. Starting the ball rolling a year ago was Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.), who spearheaded a letter from 39 members of the U.S. House of Representatives calling for clemency for Pollard, a former U.S. Navy analyst sentenced to life in 1987 for spying for Israel.

Frank—and Pollard’s supporters—were frustrated that they were unable to sign on a single Republican to the effort. Within the national security community, opposition to Pollard’s release still runs strong.

Since then, however, a trickle of current Republican officeholders have joined the calls for clemency for Pollard, among them Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), the 2008 GOP presidential nominee, and Tea Party-aligned Reps. Allen West (R-Fla.) and Michael Grimm (R-N.Y.).

Additionally, an array of former Republican senators and former top officials of Republican administrations—some who played a role on Pollard’s incarceration—also have called for his release.

“We do not condone espionage, nor do we underestimate the gravity of Pollard’s crime,” says an Oct. 26 letter signed by 18 former senators. “But it is patently clear that Mr. Pollard’s sentence is severely disproportionate and (as several federal judges have noted) a gross miscarriage of justice.”

A number of the signatories had served on the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, including Sens. Dennis DeConcini (D-Ariz.), Alan Simpson (R-Wyo.), Arlen Specter (R-Pa.), Birch Bayh (D-Ind.), Connie Mack (R-Fla.) and David Durenberger (R-Minn.)—a position that would have allowed them access to secret information that opponents of Pollard have alleged implicates him more seriously than the publicly known information he shared with Israel.

Biden’s meeting came the same day that Obama announced five pardons and a commutation for Thanksgiving. None of those pardoned are still serving time. The action clears their record, and frees them to participate in areas of public life previously denied them, such as voting. (As it happens, it was also the 26th anniversary of Pollard’s 1985 arrest.)

Presidents may pardon and commute at will—it is one power not subject to any oversight. Traditionally they issue pardons around holidays; expect another round before Christmas. Obama has been relatively parsimonious with his releases; he has issued 22 pardons and one commutation. Bill Clinton gave pardons or commutations to 456 people in eight years, while George W. Bush issued 200.

The meeting also came the week that the White House announced that the president would observe the decades-old tradition on Wednesday of pardoning a turkey headed for the Thanksgiving table.

Esther Pollard last week published an appeal to Obama in The Jerusalem Post that noted the tradition of pardoning turkeys.

“While the pardoning ceremony is light-hearted, the values it demonstrates are solemn and deeply cherished,” she wrote. “As the president of the United States, your granting clemency to a lowly barnyard bird demonstrates to the world the great respect that the American people have for the values of justice, compassion and mercy. It is in this light that I write to bring to your attention once again to the plight of my husband, Jonathan Pollard.”

Report: Dozens of U.S. spies captured in Lebanon and Iran


Dozens of spies working for the CIA were captured recently in Lebanon and Iran, current and former U.S. officials told The Associated Press and ABC News on Monday.

The CIA’s operations in Lebanon have been badly damaged after Hezbollah identified and captured a number of the U.S. spies, officials told The Associated Press.

Hezbollah’s longtime leader, Sheik Hassan Nasrallah, boasted on television in June that he had rooted out at least two CIA spies who had infiltrated the ranks of Hezbollah, which the U.S. considers a terrorist group closely allied with Iran. Though the U.S. Embassy in Lebanon officially denied the accusation, current and former officials concede that it happened and the damage has spread even further.

According to a report by ABC News, there were two distinct espionage rings targeting Iran and Hezbollah in which spies were recruited by the CIA.

Read more at Haaretz.com.

American-Israeli Ilan Grapel is freed in prisoner exchange with Egypt


Egypt released an American-Israeli it held as an alleged spy and Israel freed 25 Egyptians in a prisoner swap on Thursday that will ease strains between Cairo’s new rulers and the United States and Israel.

Ilan Grapel, 27, flew to Israel accompanied by two Israeli envoys sent by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, whom he was due to meet later in the day. Smiling, he embraced his mother who waited on the tarmac at Tel Aviv airport.

The freed Egyptians crossed overland into Egypt’s Sinai desert, some of them kneeling in a thanksgiving prayer.

Egypt arrested Grapel in June on suspicion that he was out to recruit agents and monitor events in the revolt that toppled Hosni Mubarak, an ally of Israel and the United States.

Israel denied that Grapel, who emigrated from New York in 2005 and was wounded as an Israeli paratrooper in the 2006 Lebanon war, was a spy. His links to Israel were apparent on his Facebook page, which contained photos of him in Israeli military uniform.

A law student in the United States, Grapel had been working for Saint Andrew’s Refugee Services, a non-governmental agency, when he was detained.

The United States, which provides the army that now runs Egypt with billions of dollars in military aid, had called for Grapel’s release. He was freed three weeks after U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta visited Egypt.

The U.S.-brokered exchange deal was reached shortly after a more high-profile, Egyptian-mediated swap between Israel and Gaza’s Hamas Islamist rulers freed captive Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit in exchange for more than 1,000 Palestinian prisoners.

Eli Avidar, a former diplomat who headed Israel’s mission in Qatar, said securing the release of Egyptian prisoners could help Cairo’s new leaders domestically.

“The Egyptian administration needs this for its prestige,” he said on Israel Television.

Israel is widely unpopular in Egypt, which signed a peace treaty with its northern neighbor in 1979.

EMBASSY ATTACK

In September, Israel flew its ambassador out of Egypt when the Israeli embassy was attacked by protesters angry at the killings of Egyptian border guards when Israeli troops pursued raiders who killed eight Israelis in August. Israel said the gunmen infiltrated from the Gaza Strip via the Sinai.

Many of the prisoners on the release roster were jailed for drug trafficking, infiltration into Israel and gun-running, but not for espionage or attacks on Israelis, Israel’s Prison Service said.

“Raise up your heads, you are Egyptian,” cried relatives waving the country’s red, white and black flag as the bus carrying the men crossed the border.

“I’ve been in jail since 2005. Thank God. I feel reborn,” Mursi Barakat told Egyptian state television. “The treatment in jail was very tough and it was clear there was discrimination.”

U.S. Congressman Gary Ackerman who pressed for Grapel’s release, travelled to Israel to accompany him back to the United States, his office said in a statement.

Israel has also called for steps to help free another Israeli, Oudeh Suleiman Tarabin, jailed by Egypt.

Amos Gilad, a senior Israeli Defense Ministry official, rejected arguments by right-wingers in Israel that it had capitulated to Egypt in the 25-1 exchange.

“The bottom line is you have to decide, will he (Grapel) stay there in prison, or not? If you ask, me, he needed to be freed,” Gilad said on Israel Radio.

Additional reporting by Dan Williams and Ori Lewis in Jerusalem and Shaimaa Fayed and Omar Fahmy in Cairo; Writing by Jeffrey Heller and Edmund Blair

Israeli Cabinet approves Grapel prisoner swap deal


Israel’s Cabinet unanimously approved a deal to release dual American-Israeli citizen Ilan Grapel in exchange for 25 Egyptians being held in Israeli prisons.

The agreement, which was facilitated by the U.S. government, according to a statement from the Prime Minister’s Office, was approved Tuesday.

Grapel, who is accused by Egypt of being a spy for Israel, is expected to return to Israel on Thursday, according to the statement.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also instructed the relevant authorities to work to bring about the release of Ouda Tarabin, an Israeli Bedouin who has been held in Egypt for 11 years on charges of espionage, the statement said.

The Egyptians to be released under the Grapel deal, including three minors, are not security prisoners, the Prime Minister’s Office said Monday evening. They are being held on charges such as crossing the border illegally, drug trafficking and holding unlicensed weapons, according to reports.

Grapel, arrested in Cairo in June, was accused of espionage. Later he was accused as well of incitement and the attempted arson of the country’s Interior Ministry building and police headquarters in Cairo during January’s riots in the capital.

The agreement comes less than a week after captured Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit was exchanged for more than 1,000 Palestinian prisoners in an agreement reached with the terrorist organization Hamas.

Egyptian security officials said Grapel entered the country shortly after the start of the Jan. 25 uprising that led to the resignation of President Hosni Mubarak and posed as a foreign correspondent. A law student at Emory University, Grapel allegedly said he was Muslim on the visa application that he filed with the Egyptian Embassy in Tel Aviv and then entered Egypt using his American passport.

Grapel is a New Yorker who moved to Israel following his graduation from Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore. He joined the Israeli army, served as a paratrooper during the Second Lebanon War and was wounded in Southern Lebanon in August 2006.

Egypt demands prisoner exchange for Grapel


Egypt is calling for the release of dozens of Egyptians being held in Israeli prisons in return for alleged spy Ilan Grapel.

Seventy-eight Egyptians are now held in Israeli prisons, accused of infiltrating the border, the Egyptian newspaper al-Ahram reported. Other demands reportedly also have been made for the release of Grapel, a dual American-Israeli citizen.

U.S. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta in a visit last week to Egypt reportedly expressed concern about Grapel’s continued detention but was unable to secure his release. The Egyptian news service MENA reported that the United States had offered Egypt additional aid and political support in exchange for Grapel’s freedom.

Grapel is a New Yorker who moved to Israel following his graduation from Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore. He joined the Israeli army, served as a paratrooper during the Second Lebanon War and was wounded in Southern Lebanon in August 2006.

Egyptian security officials said Grapel entered the country shortly after the start of the Jan. 25 uprising that led to the resignation of President Hosni Mubarak and posed as a foreign correspondent.

A law student at Emory University, Grapel allegedly said he was Muslim on the visa application that he filed with the Egyptian Embassy in Tel Aviv and then entered Egypt using his American passport.

Grapel denies he is a spy. He says he came to Egypt to intern for a nongovernmental organization that assists refugees from Sudan and elsewhere.

Biden agrees to meeting on Pollard


Vice President Joe Biden has agreed to meet with Jewish communal leaders to discuss the case of Jonathan Pollard.

Biden made the commitment at the end of a Rosh Hashanah reception Wednesday at the vice president’s residence, Malcolm Hoenlein, the executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, told JTA. Abraham Foxman, the Anti-Defamation League’s national director, confirmed the conversation.

The New York Times recently reported that during a recent meeting in Florida, Biden told a group of rabbis that “President Obama was considering clemency, but I told him, ‘Over my dead body are we going to let him out before his time.’”

Hoenlein and other Jewish organizational leaders from across the political and religious spectrum have called on successive presidents to grant clemency to Pollard, who was sentenced to life in prison in 1987 for spying for Israel. In recent months, Obama has received a flood of clemency appeals on behalf of Pollard from members of Congress, former U.S. government officials and Israeli officials.

Pollard recently underwent kidney-related surgery that was deemed successful.

Hoenlein said he asked Biden to give Jewish leaders the chance to make the case for Pollard’s release—and, in response, the vice president apparently agreed to hold a small meeting in order to have an “open and frank discussion” about the issue.

Biden also agreed that the meeting “would happen very soon,” Hoenlein said. “He takes it seriously and understands there is a concern in the community. I hope the meeting will be soon after Yom Kippur.”

Hoenlein said it was Biden’s meeting, so the vice president would decide who will attend.

The vice president’s office could not immediately be reached for comment.

Biden prevented Pollard clemency, NYT reports


President Obama was considering clemency for convicted spy for Israel Jonathan Pollard until Vice President Joseph Biden prevented it, the New York Times reported.

“President Obama was considering clemency, but I told him, ‘Over my dead body are we going to let him out before his time,’ ” Biden said during a meeting with rabbis in Boca Raton, Fla., according to the newspaper. “If it were up to me, he would stay in jail for life,” he reportedly added.

Pollard was sentenced to life in prison in 1987 for spying for Israel. He is scheduled for mandatory parole in November 2015.  In recent months, Obama has received a flood of appeals from Congress members and former government officials to grant Pollard clemency.

Pollard recently successfully underwent kidney-related surgery.

Obama is relying on Biden for help in his reelection campaign with American-Jewish voters, the New York Times article said.

“Mr. Biden has taken on the job of fund-raising among Jewish Democrats, at the same time that he has been seeking to assure the party’s base that the Obama administration remains a loyal friend to Israel,” the article said.

Biden, through his foreign policy work in the Senate, has built lifelong ties with Israeli politicians, something Obama does not have on his resume, the report pointed out.

The untold story of Josh Fattal


Correction: An earlier version of this article mentioned that Josh Fattal had visited Israel just before getting arrest in Iran.  Sources recently reported that Fattal had not visited Israel for several years prior to going to Syria and Iraq.

By now, the whole world knows the name and face of Joshua Fattal, the 29-year-old Elkins Park, Pa., native who spent 26 months in an Iranian prison before being reunited with his family last week in Oman and arriving back on U.S. soil on Sunday.

But one aspect of the story that has largely gone unreported is the fact that Fattal is Jewish.

Josh’s father, Jacob Fattal, was born in Iraq and moved to Israel before ultimately settling in the United States. Josh Fattal became a bar mitzvah at Philadelphia’s Rodeph Shalom.

It’s no accident that the Jewish side of the story has largely been kept under wraps, according to family friend Brian Gralnick and others familiar with the situation.

And it doesn’t take much imagination to guess the reasons why: The Iranian government is virulently anti-Israel and has a history of charging Jews with spying for Israel.

While it stands to reason that Fattal’s captors knew his religion or learned it during interrogations, his family did not want to take any chances and risk having information get out into the public sphere that could endanger their son even further.

And, since the families of the three captives worked so closely together, forming a united front, the idea was to keep the focus on three American citizens who were wrongly imprisoned, rather than single out one because of his Jewishness.

So, despite the fact that Laura Fattal appeared frequently in the media as she and the other families waged a public campaign for their children’s release, she and other family members declined to be interviewed by the Jewish Exponent. The family also rejected offers of several Jewish organizations to intervene.

The Jewish Exponent chose to refrain from reporting on the story altogether, let alone detail Fattal’s Jewish connection, until the hikers were freed.

“When it comes to someone’s physical safety, we’ll always err on the side of caution, even if it means suppressing such a dramatic and important story,” said Lisa Hostein, the Exponent’s executive editor.

Many of the details of the story are well known. Fattal, Shane Bauer and a third individual hiking in Iraqi Kurdistan, Sarah Shourd, were arrested in July 2009 by Iranian guards, after apparently inadvertently straying into Iranian territory. It is still far from clear exactly what transpired that day, whether the threesome had actually entered Iranian territory, whether they had been coaxed over by border guards or some other scenario. The three were charged with spying for the United States and sent to Iran’s notorious Evin prison.

Shourd, who was engaged to Bauer in prison, became ill and was released last year on $500,000, given by an anonymous party. Last month, the two remaining hikers were convicted and sentenced to an eight-year prison sentence.

The families “knew that they had to get sentenced,” said Gralnick, 32. “The tougher part was the end of Ramadan,” when the family had been led to believe—or at least was hoping—that he would be pardoned. “That was much more critical than the guilty verdict.”

Finally, on Sept. 21, nearly two weeks after a promise from Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad that they would be released on humanitarian grounds, the two were freed on $1 million bail together, flown to the capital of Oman and reunited with their families in a jubilant scene captured by cameras.

Shortly after their arrival at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York on Sunday, Fattal and Bauer spoke out about their ordeal. They described how they spent most of their time together in a cell about the same size as a small moving van, denied a chance to exercise or even to receive letters from family.

“Many times—too many times—we heard the screams of other prisoners being beaten, and there was nothing we could do to help them,” Fattal said during the news conference.

The two described themselves as hostages who were only held because they were from the United States. Bauer, a journalist and the more overtly political of the two, said that he and Fattal actually opposed American policies that are the source of the antagonism between the two nations. They said they were unsure if they had ever actually crossed the border—and may never know.

“We applaud the Iranian authorities for finally making the right decision regarding our case. But we want to be clear that they do not deserve undue credit for ending what they had no right and no justification to start in the first place,” said Fattal.

There is still much to learn about what happened during the past few years, some of it likely to come out as the families, and the hikers themselves, share more of their harrowing ordeal.

One significant piece of the story was how both Josh’s mother, Laura, a teacher, and his brother, Alex—a doctoral student in anthropology at Harvard University—put their respective lives completely on hold and threw all their efforts into Josh’s release while Laura’s husband, Jacob Fattal, continued to work in order to support the family.

Gralnick, a lifelong friend who had known Alex Fattal since pre-school, witnessed the physical and emotional toll that the uncertainty had on the Fattal family, heard the details of the family’s interactions with the U.S. State Department, the White House, the office of U.S. Sen. Bob Casey, Swiss diplomats and the attorney in Iran.

“There was a lot of frustration. They had no real leverage. Absolutely no leverage. They could only hope and pray that Iran would make a humanitarian gesture,” said Gralnick, who directs the Center for Social Responsibility at the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia and also serves as lay president of the Jewish Social Policy Action Network. (His involvement with the Fattal case was not related to his professional work at Federation.)

Another part of the story was just how many in the Elkins Park area and beyond were touched indirectly and directly by the plight of the Fattal family.

While no Jewish organizations became directly involved, plenty of Jews took it upon themselves to express support for the family in a number of ways.

Bernard Dishler, a family dentist and a longtime Jewish communal activist who was a leader in the Soviet Jewry movement, approached Laura Fattal on behalf of Federation to see if there was something the organization could do. She told him the help wasn’t needed—the family was in touch with all sorts of government officials—but she welcomed his individual support.

“When your kid is in that kind of situation, you don’t want to do anything to endanger him,” said Dishler, who attended a number of fundraisers and vigils.

Earlier this year on a Federation mission to Israel, Dishler met with the parents of Gilad Shalit, the Israeli soldier who was abducted by Hamas in 2006. He said Laura Fattal herself once made a direct comparison between the plight of Shalit and that of her son and Bauer.

“She said Shalit is in such worse shape in terms of a chance of getting out. She has been an eternal optimist, she was never down about it,” said Dishler.

Others, including Fattal’s former classmates at Cheltenham High School, pitched in by helping to organize candlelight vigils, publicizing the hiker’s plight on Facebook and Twitter, and organizing fundraisers to help pay the families’ legal and travel expenses. For example, the Earth Bread + Brewery in Mount Airy created a “Free the Hikers” beer that raised $10,000 for the cause.

Rabbi Eliot Holin of Congregation Kol Ami in Elkins Park had presided over the Bar Mitzvah of Josh Fattal when he was at Rodeph Shalom. He also reached out to the Fattal family, though he didn’t know them very well.

In the end, he decided to make a prayer for Fattal’s release a part of every Friday night service.

“We have been reciting their names in our weekly Erev Shabbat and Shabbat Misheberach prayers in the hope that our thoughts and prayers on their behalf would carry to their domain, and in the fervent hope that they would soon be reunited with their families and friends at home in America,” said the rabbi, who sent out a congregational email rejoicing at the release of the hikers last week.

This past Shabbat, he invited a member of the congregation to “sound the shofar as ‘the great shofar of freedom’ blast to announce their return home and our abundant joy for them, their families and ourselves.”

While being Jewish was part of who Fattal is, he thinks of himself as a citizen of the world, said Fattal’s longtime friend Joe Boxman, noting that his friend was an environmental activist who had traveled around the globe to countries such as India, South Africa, New Zealand, China and the Philippines.

“This transcended religion and transcended politics. It was really about what was right,” said the 29-year-old Boxman who, in 2009, was asked to help organize the first candlelight vigil.

It was two weeks before his wedding. He at first said no, but called a friend back several minutes later to say he was in. In the end, several hundred people attended the vigil, which took place at the Curtis Arboretum on a pitch-black night.

“I can say that today has been one of the happier days in a long, long time,” Boxman told the Exponent about an hour after Fattal and Bauer had landed in Oman and been reunited with their families. “The footage of him getting off the plane—that was one of the things I was waiting to see.”

Boxman said that Fattal is someone with a need to travel constantly and who has a belief in the overall goodness of people. He hopes this experience hasn’t fundamentally changed his friend’s character.

“There is a culture of fear out there about the Middle East and this, unfortunately, perpetuates that,” said Boxman. “A buddy of mine said to me a couple of minutes ago, ‘At least he’ll be close to home now.’ I hope he stays for a little while, but to have Josh not feeling free, to have Josh feeling bound and damaged—I want Josh to have the freedom to feel free.”

He’s kept the wedding invitation for his friend that never got sent and is conflicted about whether or not to give it to him. Will Fattal appreciate the gesture or will it remind him of all that he missed?

Gralnick, for his part, struggled over the past 26 months with how to provide comfort to his old friend and Josh’s brother, Alex Fattal. The two met in nursery school and attended Hebrew school and elementary school together, all the way up to Cheltenham High School.

Gralnick recalled taking Fattal out for Korean fried chicken, dragging him out on the clay courts for a few sets of tennis, or talking with him into the early morning hours when he took refuge at his home—anything to take Fattal’s mind, however briefly, away from the all-consuming reality.

“Everybody needs a respite, and to some degree that’s what I tried to provide Alex,” he said. “You really just don’t know what to say other than you just try and be there.”

Now that the worst is over, Gralnick is concerned the two hikers will suffer some form of post-traumatic stress disorder in the months ahead. He’s also uncertain how easily Alex Fattal will be able to resume life as normal and get back to his Ph.D. work in anthropology.

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