JERUSALEM – Rafi Eitan, a legendary Israeli intelligence officer and the recruiter and handler of imprisoned spy Jonathan Pollard, said here yesterday if elected to a Knesset seat he would work for Pollard’s release.
But Pollard’s wife and attorney told WND that in a meeting they previously held with Eitan the spy’s former handler allegedly said if given the opportunity he would have “put a bullet through Pollard’s head” when he originally sought asylum in an Israeli Embassy so “there would have been no Pollard affair.”
Pollard himself said Eitan was involved in orchestrating his arrest, and he revealed Eitan allegedly asked him to recruit intelligence for the personal political benefit of several Israeli officials, including Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, and to betray names of American agents working inside Israel – instructions Pollard says he refused.
“Pollard has been in prison for 20 years. I have felt myself responsible throughout,” Eitan told Israel’s Army Radio yesterday. “I want to do everything I can in order to work for his release. In the Knesset, perhaps I will find more effective means to free him.”
Eitan is running in next month’s elections to head the Pensioners’ Party, which represents the rights of retirees. He is the subject of multiple books and films and is considered a legend in the Israeli intelligence community. His statements about Pollard made national news in Israel yesterday.
Eitan is best remembered as the Mossad operations chief who masterminded the capture of Nazi fugitive Adolf Eichmann. While operating in America, he also recruited and ran Pollard, a U.S. Naval intelligence analyst, as a spy for LAKAM, a scientific intelligence bureau of the Israeli Defense Forces.
Pollard was convicted in 1985 of one count of passing classified information to an ally, Israel, and sentenced to life imprisonment in spite of a plea agreement that was to spare Pollard a life sentence in return for his cooperation with government investigators.
Pollard’s sentence is considered by many to be disproportionate to the crime for which he was convicted. He is the only person in the history of the United States to receive a life sentence for spying for an ally. The median sentence for this particular offense is two to four years.
Pollard previously told WND the information he passed to Israel forewarned the Jewish state about the buildup of unconventional weapons of war in neighboring Arab countries, including the buildup of arms by Saddam Hussein for use against Israel.
The Israeli government denied for years Pollard was its spy but finally acknowledged it in 1998 and now claims to be pressing for his release.
When Pollard’s actions originally were discovered by the U.S. in 1985, he immediately sought refuge at the Israeli Embassy in Washington, an order Pollard says he was given by Eitan in the event of a possible capture. But when Pollard arrived at the embassy, he was received at first then expelled into the custody of FBI agents waiting outside.
Pollard’s wife Esther told WND she was “stunned” by Eitan’s recent statements about helping her husband, explaining she and attorney Larry Dub previously held a meeting in which Eitan said he would have killed Pollard if he had been present at the Israeli Embassy when Pollard sought sanctuary.
Said Esther: “In 1998, Larry and I along with (Israeli prisoner rights advocate) Herut Lapid met with Rafi Eitan. Until 1998, Eitan had refused our requests to meet. As we began our conversation, Eitan told us the only thing he is sorry about is that he did not ‘finish the job’ before leaving the States.
“We asked him what he meant by this. Eitan replied, ‘If I had been at the embassy when Pollard came to seek asylum, I would have put a bullet through his head. There would have been no Pollard affair.’
“Stunned, we just stared at Eitan as he continued: ‘The next day, I would have seen to it that the news reports stated that an American intruder had attacked a guard at the Israeli Embassy – no mention of any spy affair – and that in the scuffle a gun went off and the American was killed. There would have been no Pollard case. That is the only thing I am sorry about.'”
Eitan: Pollards ‘too noisy’
Asked by WND to respond to his alleged statements, Eitan yesterday refused to deny he was being accurately quoted by Esther Pollard.
Eitan said he thought Pollard would have a better opportunity at release “if he and his wife just keep quiet. They are being too noisy and turning things into controversy.”
Esther Pollard said she kept Eitan’s alleged statements confidential out of the hope Eitan eventually would help her husband.
“We did not expose our conversation with Eitan and what he had said at the time about being sorry that he did not kill Jonathan, because we wanted him to become involved finally to do the things he can and should do to secure Jonathan’s release.
“But, in spite of our efforts and in spite of the passage of time, Rafi Eitan has refused to lift a finger for Jonathan. Now, suddenly, after 20 years, Eitan has surfaced in the media again exploiting Jonathan’s name to promote his candidacy for Knesset,” Esther Pollard said.
She maintained Eitan “is sitting on a mountain of secrets” that could help free her husband.
“Rafi Eitan was Jonathan’s control officer and his handler,” she said. “We knew that Rafi had a golden opportunity – which still exists to this day – to quietly intervene behind the scenes and to secure the release of my husband.”
Jonathan Pollard responds
Jonathan Pollard, speaking from prison, said he thinks Eitan likely was involved in his expulsion from the Israeli Embassy.
“I think it is important that people understand that [Eitan] was the one who failed to provide an escape plan for me,” Pollard said. “He was the one who was at the heart of my expulsion from the embassy, I believe.”
Pollard charged Eitan attempted to direct him to collect information politically useful to then-Israeli cabinet minister Sharon and other Israeli officials.
“He is the same man who ordered me to collect politically useful information for his patrons [including Sharon], despite the fact that I was officially limited to a collection list compiled by the head of Military Intelligence. I refused,” Pollard said.
Pollard also claimed Eitan asked him to find possible Americans spying against Israel.
“He was also the one who wanted me to find the names of American agents in Israel. Again against orders. And I refused that too.”
Responding to Eitan’s statements about putting a bullet through his head, Pollard said, “Yeah. His only regret is that he didn’t kill me. This is payback (from Eitan) for my refusal to corrupt my mission.”