Trust among friends

DEEP misgivings can come from even a little spying among friends. The convictions of Americans Jonathan and Anne Henderson-Pollard for spying for a friend of the United States, Israel, were troubling enough. Promotions of two Israelis who had been responsible for the Pollard operation while serving at the Israeli Embassy in Washington have made the Israeli government appear insensitive to how Americans feel about the whole affair. So have Israeli complaints of ``meddling'' in Israeli affairs by American Jews visiting Jerusalem, who have taken the occasion to protest Israel's handling of the matter.

Experienced diplomatic hands say we should not really be surprised at the Pollard disclosures. Sovereign states learn all they can about one another. And Israel has a reputation for following with particular acuity all matters of interest to itself - not just security issues, but economic and agricultural matters as well - through Washington agencies.

What should be gained from this, the professional diplomats say, is a clearer realization that US interests and Israeli interests are not identical. Eyes should be opened to the flaws in a romanticized US-Israeli relationship, lately promoted by talk in Washington and Jerusalem of a special strategic consensus. The Iran affair similarly illustrates how Israel's Middle East interests differ from those of the US. Americans, who tend to be almost willfully naive about their foreign relations, can use a sobering up now and then.

Still, the Pollard matter comes as more than just another cold dash of realism. From the US perspective, the Pollard spying on the heels of other espionage cases, notably the Walker family affair, revealed a troubling lack of security and a disrespect for US law. That the Pollards were professedly motivated by fondness for Israel and the Walkers by avarice does not make espionage against their own country any more palatable. Likewise, Oliver North's apparent zealousness in behalf of the ``democratic'' contra cause was no excuse for the murky operations launched by the National Security Council, with Israeli and other collaboration, which have compromised the Reagan presidency.

The United States is a democracy governed by laws, not by ``interests.'' It is a big power. Militarily it has only one serious adversary, the Soviet Union - to which it is not inferior. The US has to fear chiefly a corrosion of its own integrity.

Israel is a small power. It is vulnerable in ways the US is not. But it must play by the same rules the US aspires to if it does not want to corrode the trust of its powerful friend.

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