Ben-ami Kadish is escorted from Federal court in New York on Tuesday, April 22, 2008.
Jerusalem -- The case of an 84-year-old New Jersey man charged with passing secrets to an Israeli agent a quarter-century ago has created speculation that more Americans may have been serving Israeli intelligence than previously thought.
Jonathan Pollard, a civilian intelligence analyst for the U.S. Navy, was arrested by FBI agents in Washington D.C. in 1985 and pleaded guilty to spying charges, receiving a life sentence. Now, retired U.S. military engineer Ben-ami Kadish faces similar charges.
The link between Pollard and Kadish is a now-defunct Israeli intelligence agency enigmatically known as the Scientific Relations Office. The office was run by Rafi Eitan, a former officer of the Mossad spy agency who is now an octogenarian Israeli Cabinet minister in charge of pensioners' affairs.
Kadish and Pollard allegedly had the same handler, Yosef Yagur, "an intelligence agent under diplomatic cover" serving as an attache in Israel's New York consulate but covertly attached to Eitan's office, said Israeli intelligence expert Yossi Melman.
Yagur is now retired and lives in Tel Aviv, Melman said. His telephone number is unlisted.
"For years, Israel was involved in technological espionage in the U.S.," Melman said. "Kadish and Pollard were certainly not the only ones."
The prosecutor who oversaw the Pollard case also said the arrest of Kadish, who allegedly operated under identical circumstances, shows the spy ring was larger than anyone knew and that the Israelis lied about it.
"It clearly indicates there were other Americans being asked at other military installations to do the same things the same way," said Joseph E. diGenova, a Washington attorney now in private practice.
After Pollard was caught, Eitan assumed responsibility and resigned. The Scientific Relations Office was disbanded. Israel promised the U.S. that it would no longer conduct any intelligence activity on American soil and there is no evidence it has broken that promise.
But if the new charges are true, Israel clearly did not come clean about its pre-1985 activities.
According to the charges filed in a New York court Tuesday, for six years beginning in 1979, Kadish took home documents concerning nuclear weapons, a modified version of the F-15 fighter jet and the U.S. Patriot missile air defense system and let an Israeli consular official photograph the documents in his basement.
On Wednesday, Israel offered its first response to the arrest, a vague statement that neither confirmed nor denied the charges. Foreign Ministry spokesman Arye Mekel said Israel would not comment specifically on the Kadish case.
"To remove any doubt, since 1985 there has been much care taken to observe the directives of the prime ministers not to engage in any activities of this type in the U.S.," he said. "Relations between the U.S. and Israel have always been based on real friendship and shared values and interests."
Micha Harish, an Israeli Cabinet minister who headed the committee that investigated the Pollard affair, told Israel Radio on Wednesday that the working assumption was that Pollard was the only spy.
Israeli lawmaker Yuval Steinitz, a former head of parliament's intelligence subcommittee, said that from the information available it seems the Kadish case was more akin to industrial espionage than full-fledged spying.
"I don't think there's a big scandal here," he said. "I think this is about collecting technological information, which many countries do to each other, even friendly ones."
Since the Pollard case, Steinitz said, Israel has halted those activities in the U.S. And some Israelis have questioned why a three-decade old case surfaced now.
Shlomo Slonim, an expert on U.S.-Israel relations at Hebrew University in Jerusalem, said the documents Kadish allegedly supplied were not top secret and could be found in a library.
"Apparently somebody is trying to trump up something relatively minor and make it into a scandal of some sort," he said.
Alon Pinkas, Israel's former New York consul, went further, saying "anti-Israeli" elements in the CIA and Pentagon might have decided to release the charges to torpedo any possible release of Pollard.
Israeli leaders regularly press the U.S. to free the jailed spy, but U.S. intelligence agencies strongly oppose it.
U.S. State Department Spokesman Tom Casey expressed displeasure over the new revelations in a briefing to reporters Wednesday.
"Twenty-plus years ago during the Pollard case, we noted that this was not the kind of behavior we would expect from friends and allies, and that would remain the case today," Casey said.
Official ties are unlikely to be affected, said David Kimche, president of the Israel Council on Foreign Relations and a former senior Mossad official.
"There won't be any dramatic ramifications in the sense that any sort of actions will be taken against Israel, in my opinion," Kimche said.