JERUSALEM (AP) — A former intelligence official who controlled Pentagon spy Jonathan Pollard has put his new party in a position to influence Israel’s next government with its surprise showing in legislative elections.
Rafi Eitan, who also helped in the capture of Holocaust mastermind Adolf Eichmann in 1960, led his Pensioners Party to garnering seven seats in the 120-seat parliament. Most opinion polls had predicted a much poorer results.
Those seven seats now loom large because Prime Minister-designate Ehud Olmert’s Kadima party captured 28 of the 120 seats, but needs 61 to form a government.
Olmert reportedly has already dispatched emissaries to Eitan to secure his seven votes for a future government.
Eitan, 79, who wears thick, oversized eyeglasses, said Wednesday that he would join any coalition that addresses pensioners’ concerns.
Eitan emerged from the shadows in 1985 as the handler of Pollard in the espionage affair that embarrassed Israel and severely tarnished its relations with the United States.
Pollard, a civilian intelligence analyst for the U.S. Navy, sold military secrets to Israel while working at the Pentagon. He was arrested in 1985 and pleaded guilty, receiving a life sentence.
Eitan claimed his actions were sanctioned by his superiors, but eventually he was forced to resign. Then-Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir praised Eitan as “one of the virtuosos of our intelligence.”
Asked about Pollard on Wednesday, Eitan said, “I would very much like to see this man go free.”
In a recent interview, Eitan defended the risky operation, saying Pollard’s information was too good to resist and would have made a great difference in the event of war with Arab countries.
Eitan said the decision to recruit an agent to spy on Israel’s closest ally was his alone.
“I took complete, absolute responsibility. I decided to take the risk, which was clear to me, although I didn’t predict the affair would develop to such an extent,” he told the Yediot Ahronot newspaper’s Web site.
Eitan on Wednesday denied Israeli media reports that he was banned from the U.S. because of his role. “As far as I know, no one is looking for me anywhere,” he said. The State Department had no comment.
Eitan, a longtime friend of Ariel Sharon, began his career fighting in the Palmach pre-state army. After Israel’s creation in 1948, Eitan joined the Shin Bet security service.
He later joined the Mossad spy agency and was involved in many top secret operations, including the 1960 capture of Eichmann in Argentina.
Eitan went into business until Sharon persuaded then-prime minister Menachem Begin to appoint Eitan as an adviser on combating terror.
Sharon was felled by a stroke on Jan. 4 after forming the centrist Kadima Party, reacting to opposition to his unilateral Gaza pullout from his Likud Party. Sharon remains in a coma.
While in the pre-state army, Eitan was wounded in battle and became partially deaf. It was then he also earned his nickname, “Stinky Rafi,” after hiding in a pit of sewage while on a mission. Sharon continued to affectionately call him “the Stinker” for the next half century