The Justice Department, concluding that Israeli officials concealed key information last year in the Jonathan Jay Pollard spy case, has told four Israeli government and military figures that they have lost their immunity from criminal prosecution in the affair, sources close to the case said Monday.
The unusual move--which threatens to further strain U.S.-Israeli relations already made tense by the Iran- contras scandal--exposes the four, including a senior Israeli air force general, to the risk of indictment and even trial on espionage-related charges. Any formal decision to seek indictments must await further developments in a continuing investigation of the Pollard case, one U.S. source said Monday.
Symbolizes Major Shift
The action also symbolizes a major shift for the State Department, which last year cited the extremely sensitive diplomatic nature of the case in fighting a bitter battle with Justice Department officials to keep the spying investigation limited to Pollard and his wife, Anne Henderson-Pollard.
This time, however, the State Department objected only mildly to the lifting of the four Israelis' criminal immunity and did not attempt to block the Justice Department's action, one source said. Senior State Department officials are said to have concluded last summer that Israeli officials misled them last year when they offered "full cooperation" in resolving the Pollard affair.
In Operation 17 Months
Pollard, a former civilian analyst with the Naval Investigative Service, and his wife pleaded guilty last June to conspiracy charges linked to the sale of thousands of secret U.S. defense documents to Israel. The spying scheme, which was to have netted the two more than $345,000 over 10 years, had been in operation for only 17 months before being broken up in November, 1985.
The latest Justice Department action affects four Israeli citizens who were named as unindicted co-conspirators in the case. They are Israeli Air Force Commander Aviem (Avi) Sella; Rafael (Rafi) Eitan, a counterterrorism adviser to two Israeli prime ministers; Joseph (Yossi) Yagur, the former science consul at Israel's New York City consulate, and Irit Erb, secretary at the Israeli Embassy in Washington.
Sella is believed to have been Pollard's chief "handler" during most of his spying activities. He reportedly has refused requests to talk to U.S. investigators.
Sources close to the probe said the four had been granted "informal" immunity last year by federal prosecutors investigating Pollard and his wife. Under the agreement, prosecutors agreed not to seek criminal charges against the Israelis in exchange for their cooperation in building a case against the Pollards.
However, "they didn't cooperate and weren't forthcoming" in the probe, one source said, leading to the notification last month that the immunity agreement was being ended.