Israeli soldier faces jail for passing secrets to reporter

A former Israeli soldier who leaked secret military documents to a journalist suggesting that the army had ignored a court ruling in carrying out targeted assassinations of West Bank militants faces years in prison.

Anat Kamm, who was held under secret house arrest for four months before her case was made public, pleaded guilty yesterday to the possession and distribution of classified documents, charges that carry a maximum sentence of 15 years.

Prosecutors, who had dropped the more serious charge of intent to harm state security as part of a plea bargain, said they would push for a lengthy term when she is sentenced in April. In doing so, they hope to send a strong message to other would-be whistleblowers.

Kamm, 24, copied some 2,000 classified documents between 2005 and 2007, when she was a low-ranking soldier in the office of a general who oversaw Israeli policy in the occupied West Bank, according to the indictment.

The documents included details of Israeli Defence Force (IDF) deployments, internal minutes, and plans for military operations as well as the names of Palestinian militants marked out for assassination.

After her discharge from the army in 2008, Kamm passed the files to Uri Blau, an investigative reporter for the liberal newspaper Haaretz. He used the documents in several investigative features, the most damaging of which suggested that a Palestinian militant had been marked for assassination despite a ruling by Israel's supreme court six months previously that outlawed the practice in all but exceptional cases.

Mr Blau pointed to an incident, where two members of the militant Islamic Jihad movement were shot dead in the West Bank. One of them, Ziad Malaisha, had already been identified by the military as a target, he claimed.

The IDF contended that the two militants were killed after opening fire on an army and border police patrol.

The authorities investigated the leaks and arrested Kamm in December 2009, a year after the story was published. Mr Blau, who was in London when news of her detention was made public last March, refused to return to Israel for several months, fearing that he would also face charges. He was later granted immunity if he agreed to return all the classified files in his possession.

Israeli media were initially barred from reporting on Kamm's arrest under a sweeping gag order. The restrictions were only eased after news of her detention was reported in blogs and foreign newspapers, including The Independent.

Israeli newspapers made cryptic references to the case, with the biggest-selling daily Yediot Aharonot going so far as to suggest readers put "Israeli journalist gag" into an internet search engine if they wished to learn about a case that had only been reported overseas.

Critics, including a retired Israeli Supreme Court Judge, rounded on the authorities, demanding that the gag order be revoked, saying that the public had a right to know.

In early court documents, Kamm told prosecutors that she wanted to expose possible war crimes committed by the Israeli forces. Her lawyers have called for a light punishment, arguing that a long sentence would only harm Israeli democracy.

"It was never her intention to harm the security of the state," Einat Lehman, Kamm's lawyer said in comments quoted by Haaretz.

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