Retired general cleared of intending to harm national security

A Tel Aviv court yesterday convicted retired Brig. Gen. Yitzhak Yaakov, 76, former head of the IDF's weapons development authority, of giving classified information to unauthorized people. But the court acquitted Yaakov of a more serious charge of conveying the information with intent to harm national security. Defense sources charged that Yaakov's actions were done knowingly and were more serious than those of convicted nuclear spy, Mordechai Vanunu.

In their ruling, the court judges said they were "convinced that the accused devoted most of his years to strengthening the nation's security, and did not intend to harm it." Even so, Yaakov "neglected his duty to safeguard the most secret and sensitive information that was entrusted to him." Yaakov, who has been held under round-the-clock supervision since his arrest in March last year, is liable to a prison term of up to 15 years.

"I thank the court for the verdict," Yaakov said in response. Yaakov said he was "not angry with the security establishment" over the trial.

According to media reports, the charges against Yaakov stemmed from two books he wrote - a memoir and novel - that according to the prosecution, contained real data. In 1995, Yaakov reportedly gave publishers in the United States the draft of the novel and a letter that said, "The book is based on real life events but was written as fiction in order to avoid the necessity of approval from Israeli authorities."

In 1998, Yaakov began writing his memoirs, and gave copies of the manuscript to different friends, despite having been explicitly warned by members of the security establishment that the book contained classified information and that its publication would harm the nation's security. In another incident, Yaakov revealed information in a television interview that was banned by the military censor.

In the court's ruling, Justice Amiram Binyamini wrote that none of the people were cleared to view or read the classified information. Yaakov's testimony was "full of inconsistencies regarding certain key points and implausible explanations on some issues," the court said. Still, the court accepted Yaakov's contention that he had not intended to harm Israel with his actions.

The court rejected attempts by the prosecution to draw a parallel between Yaakov's case and that of Vanunu. Vanunu, who disclosed details about Israel's nuclear program to the Sunday Times in 1986 and is now serving an 18-year sentence, knowingly gave Israel's nuclear secrets to a foreign newspaper, while Yaakov's manuscript was never published, Binyamini wrote. Yaakov's "state of mind" was not to harm Israel, and he had consulted with security officials to ask how he should proceed.

"The story of Yaakov is more serious than that of Vanunu from all aspects," a senior security source told Maariv after the court decision. Vanunu "was not warned three times, and that's the big difference," the source said.

The security source said that the court had, in effect, accepted all of the prosecution's charges. Yaakov had used "every trick in the book" to circumvent the military authorities. He did so knowingly, and over the course of years, despite the repeated warnings. He conveyed the most secret information to people overseas, in order to avoid Israeli authorities. We only just managed to stop him. If this information had been published, what would he have said? That his intentions were good? Maybe Vanunu had good intentions as well?"

Security officials in the Ministry of Defense harshly criticized the court's decision, Yediot Aharonot reported. "It is amazing that the court determined that Yaakov acted knowingly, and attempted to circumvent Israeli authorities, yet still decided that there was no proof that he intentionally committed these crimes," they said.

Ellis Shuman Israelinsider

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