For some, the exposure of an FBI investigation into the operations of a supposed Israeli mole in the Pentagon was proof that Jews can never risk trusting a Republican administration—even in these times when Christian fundamentalists, so important to Bush’s base, are solidly lined up behind Israel. (They see the Jewish state’s existence as a sign of the end-times and the return of Christ.)
Whatever it may mean, playing politics with the Jewish vote is tricky business that risks backfiring. On the surface, the mole story seems pretty tenuous. It involves a two-year-long FBI investigation into a mid-level Pentagon Iran analyst, one Larry Franklin, who supposedly gave a draft of a National Security Policy Directive, a policy paper, to members of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee. On Friday, the FBI visited the AIPAC offices in Washington, requested various documents, and began interviewing the staff. In a letter to AIPAC members, the organization’s director, Howard Kohr wrote, “We will continue to offer our full cooperation and are confident that the government will find absolutely no wrongdoing by our organization and its employees.” He added, “In the coming days and weeks, it will be critical for members like you to continue to demonstrate your confidence as Americans, supporters of Israel and members of AIPAC and the U.S.–Israel relationship.”
The New York Sun reported Monday that the Franklin inquiry has its origins in a search for the person who leaked top secret war plans for Iraq published in The New York Times in early July 2002. At the time, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld was highly irritated by the leak and declared at a July 21, 2002, press conference, “It’s inexcusable, and they ought to be in jail.” Later, in a memo to Pentagon staff, Rumsfeld wrote, “I have spoken publicly and privately countless times about the danger of leaking classified information. It is wrong. It is against the law.” According to the Sun, it’s unlikely Franklin will be charged with espionage. “This is not a matter of U.S. security being damaged,” a senior law enforcement official told the paper. “And the material wasn’t of a top secret nature—it was draft policy papers and position papers and stuff like that. The Israelis could have gotten the same stuff from conversations with their counterparts at State or the White House.”
What is one to make of this? If it’s not a Democratic maneuver to keep Jews away from Bush, then maybe it’s a run by old-line conservatives to get rid of pro-Israel neoconservatives, who they feel are ruining Bush’s re-election chances with their nutball Middle East policies, which after failure in Iraq are now aiming to lock the U.S. into a war with Iran. Or maybe, as others suggest, the story marks the surfacing of a hidden Pentagon back channel to Iranian dissidents, out of which Rumsfeld’s foreign office hopes to bring about regime change there.
Whatever the meaning, Rudy Giuliani, Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, Interior Secretary Gale Norton, and 60 members of Congress rushed to reassure Jewish voters, by joining Bernice Manocherian, president of AIPAC, at a panel discussion where she labeled the charges against AIPAC “outrageous.”
Additional reporting: Alexander Provan, Alicia Ng, and Laurie Agnese