IT can be deeply disturbing to discover that friends with whom we have shared so much may have, after all, diverging, independent interests they feel compelled to pursue even at risk of that friendship. In the case of Israel, the United States has extended economic, military, diplomatic, scientific, and technological assistance in recent years at remarkable levels. This year's creation of a unique free-trade zone agreement between the US and Israel is but one indication of Israel's special status. At the same time, Israel has sorely tested Washington's patience with such self-determined ventures as its invasion of Lebanon, which has left that country a tragic mess, and with its recent retaliatory
air strike against Palestine Liberation Organization headquarters outside Tunis.
Even against this pattern of Israel's pursuing independent objectives while holding itself a US ally, a line must be drawn: Paying an American citizen, a counterterrorism specialist for the Navy, to provide top-secret documents for Israeli intelligence crosses the line of permissible behavior. Prime Minister Shimon Peres's ``apology'' for the incident, following the arrest in Washington of US Navy analyst Jonathan Pollard for spying, affirms the correct no-spying standard: ``Spying on the United States stands in total contradiction to our policy. Such activity, to the extent that it did take place, was wrong, and the government of Israel apologizes.'' Mr. Peres's promise of a full inquiry and dismantling of any spy unit responsible leaves a burden of proof on his government to follow through. This does not, however, relieve Israel of the responsibility for full cooperation with US authorities in the prosecution of Mr. Pollard and his wife.
Neither does Secretary of State George Shultz's quick pronouncement of ``satisfaction'' with the Peres statement end the matter. Mr. Shultz has gone out on a limb in support of a close alliance with Israel. So has President Reagan. Given the ongoing administration dispute over the relative strategic merits of Israel and the Arab states that surround it, a spy scandal like the Pollard case is an embarrassment to Israel's supporters. Perhaps Israel agreed to resume talks with Egypt on the permanent status
of the Taba beachfront, on the Gulf of Aqaba, as a sign of amends (the talks had been interrupted since the Oct. 5 killing of seven Israeli tourists in the Sinai by an Egyptian policeman or soldier, pending a report by Egypt). Perhaps not.
Israel has its own reasons for inquiry. Enlistment of a Jewish-American for espionage, for instance, would be a blunder quite apart from the espionage itself, as it could unnecessarily feed the suspicions of those inclined toward anti-Semitism.
The worldly might ask, What's a little spying among friends?
An answer: The taint of mistrust lingers until it is, sometimes laboriously, expunged.