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US seeks testimony of Israeli Air Force officer in espionage case

An Israeli Air Force officer, who American officials believe was involved in the Jonathan Jay Pollard espionage case, may be extradited from Israel soon ``to present evidence'' sought by the United States, Israeli government sources said Sunday. American press reports said Friday that the US Justice Department believes Mr. Pollard, a US citizen arrested last November, may have been part of a sophisticated spy ring.

The reports said Israeli Prime Minister Shimon Peres and other government officials knew of the network's operations. The unnamed Justice Department sources said that the arrest of an Israeli Air Force officer who travels frequently to the US was imminent.

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Government sources here Sunday repeated the denials they had made last November that Mr. Peres or other senior officials knew of Pollard's activities, and said allegations that Pollard was part of a sophisticated, well-financed spy network were ``grossly exaggerated.''

They also denied that any Israeli Air Force officer was to be arrested in connection with the case, but one source said the officer sought by the Justice Department ``may be extradited soon to give evidence in the case.''

The arrest of Pollard by Federal Bureau of Investigation agents in Washington caused an uproar in both countries. Pollard has been accused of passing US secrets to Israel. The Israeli government first denied involvement with Pollard, then issued an apology to the US, saying Pollard's activities had not been authorized by the political echelon.

It was subsequently revealed, however, that Pollard had been working for a secret unit operating within the Israeli Defense Ministry, known by its Hebrew acronym, Lechem. The director of Lechem, Rafael Eitan, was fired, and the Israelis told the US that the unit was disbanded. According to reports, Lechem operated out of Israeli consulates in the US and Canada, and some scientific attach'es allegedly connected with Lechem were hastily recalled to Israel after following the Pollard arrest.

The Israeli government has worked closely with the State Department to limit damage in relations between the two nations stemming from the Pollard affair, and the Israelis had thought it was behind them before the latest revelations were made Friday.

Just last month, a senior US military anlayst in Tel Aviv said that relations between the nations' armed forces were ``better than ever'' and that it was as if ``Pollard had never happened.''

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