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Israel hopes that book is now closed on Pollard spy case

The Israeli Cabinet yesterday adopted the findings of its government-appointed commission on the Pollard spy affair. It thus hopes to close the book on a case that has severely strained United States-Israeli relations and outraged the American Jewish community. The Rotenstreich-Tsur commission found, in a report released Tuesday, that government ministers were collectively responsible for failure to know that a secret spy unit in the Defense Ministry had hired American intelligence analyst Jonathan Jay Pollard to spy for Israel. A parliamentary investigating committee reached similar findings, criticizing senior political leaders for not overseeing the spy unit but absolving them of knowledge about the hiring of Mr. Pollard, who currently is serving a life sentence in the US for espionage.

Political analysts here say that because the ministers were found to share collective responsibility, no individual minister will have to step down.

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``The Pollard affair, as far as Israel is concerned, is over,'' says an Israeli commentator. ``It's like the theater of the absurd. If the whole government accepts responsibility, why doesn't the whole government resign?''

The one lingering question is whether further action will be taken against Rafi Eitan, the man who was in charge of the unit that hired Pollard. Mr. Eitan was earlier forced to resign from his post as head of the Scientific Liaison Unit, and the unit was disbanded. But he was subsequently made head of the gigantic Israel Chemicals Corporation, one of the most prestigious executive positions in Israeli industry.

Both committees laid much of the blame for the Pollard affair at Eitan's feet. They also blamed Israeli Air Force Col. Aviem Sella, who initially contacted Pollard. The committees criticized the government for appointing Colonel Sella commander of Tel Nof Air Force Base after his involvement in the affair became known. Sella is under indictment in the US, and was forced to resign from his post in the face of sharp US protests and pressure from the American Jewish community.

The government commission report criticized Foreign Minister Shimon Peres, Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir, and Defense Minister Yitzhak Rabin for their handling of the affair after it broke. The three ministers failed to ``determine the necessary facts'' of the case, the report said, and as a result, incomplete information was given to the US government after Israel promised to cooperate fully with the investigation of Pollard.

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