NEW YORK — A former Israeli soldier is being kept under house arrest after being accused of leaking classified military information about Israel's policy of assassinating wanted militants, people familiar with the case told The Associated Press on Thursday.
Anat Kam, 23, was arrested in December and was charged with passing information with the intent of harming national security. A court-imposed gag order has prohibited officials in Israel or Israeli media from releasing details of the affair.
The U.S.-based Jewish Telegraphic Agency, which is not subject to the gag order, first reported the story earlier this week.
According to people familiar with the case, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the gag order, Kam is accused of copying classified documents while she was a soldier and leaking them to the Haaretz daily. The newspaper published a story that accused the military of defying an Israeli Supreme Court ruling against killing wanted Palestinian militants who could have been captured alive.
A November 2008 Haaretz story suggested the military had unilaterally loosened its rules of engagement and marked militants for assassination.
Israel's targeted killing policy was one of its most contentious in its years of bloody battle against a Palestinian uprising that began in 2000. Critics charged it to be illegal extrajudicial killing, while supporters credit it with quashing the Palestinian campaign of suicide bombings and shooting attacks.
In late 2006, Israel's Supreme Court set strict restrictions on assassinations in the West Bank, limiting them to extraordinary cases. Officially, the military stopped the practice following the ruling.
But the Haaretz report cited a document from March 2007 that included an order from Maj. Gen. Yair Naveh, then the top Israeli commander in the West Bank, permitting firing upon three top Palestinian militants even if they did not pose clear and present dangers.
That summer, one of the men, Ziad Malaisha, of the Islamic Jihad, was killed in Jenin. Experts interviewed by Haaretz said the order was illegal. Naveh told Haaretz at the time that the killing was justified and did not violate the court ruling. Naveh is now retired and could not be reached for comment.
At the time of the memos, Kam served in Naveh's office.
Kam has since completed her mandatory military service and became a gossip columnist for the Walla Web site. The charges against her do not relate to her journalistic activities.
Reached by the AP, Kam said she could not comment on the case, saying only that she no longer works for Walla. Her lawyer, Eitan Lehman, also refused to comment because of the gag order. The military had no comment.
Despite the gag order, Israeli media appear to be well-acquainted with the case.
Yediot Ahronot, another Israeli daily, hinted toward the brewing saga for the first time Thursday with a story headlined "What does the Shin Bet not want you to know?" and directing readers to the JTA's article on the Internet.
The Shin Bet, Israel's internal security agency, declined to comment.
Haaretz's editor in chief, Dov Alfon, said the newspaper has filed a request to lift the gag order. A court is scheduled to hear the plea April 12, he said. He also said the reporter of the 2008 story, Uri Blau, has been transferred to London "and will stay there as long as necessary." He did not elaborate.
The Committee to Protect Journalists, a New York-based group that advocates for reporters and press freedoms, said it supported having more transparency around the situation.
"There are more questions than there are answers" because the gag order makes it impossible to verify information about the case, said Mohamed Abdel Dayem, coordinator of the Middle East and North Africa program for CPJ.
A successful challenge to the gag order would change that, he said.
Israeli courts are typically wary of allowing publication of material deemed sensitive to national security.
While the mainstream media formally comply with the rulings, they often get around restrictions by citing foreign reports, and material often finds its way to the blogosphere.
The secrecy surrounding Kam's detention is reminiscent of the arrest of Mordechai Vanunu, a renegade technician at Israel's secret nuclear reactor who leaked details about Israel's nuclear program to the Sunday Times of London in 1986. Foreign experts who reviewed the information concluded that Israel had a large nuclear arsenal.
Vanunu later was kidnapped by Israeli intelligence agents in Rome and was taken back to Israel to stand trial behind closed doors. He served 18 years in prison, including 11 in solitary confinement.
Vanunu's attorney, Avigdor Feldman, told reporters he had argued that the prosecution had failed to prove Vanunu had spied against his country or otherwise betrayed it. But Vanunu later testified that he disclosed Israel's nuclear secrets to warn Arab countries and Israel itself about the dangers of nuclear weapons, his brother said.
Vanunu told judges his "motives were mainly ideological," his brother, Asher Vanunu, told the AP during the trial.
Some details of the Vanunu affair are still under wraps domestically.