Obama and his misadministration are absolutely determined to keep the tension with Israel simmering if not actually boiling over. Binyamin Netanyahu’s walkback of his rejection of a Palestinian State was scorned by the White House as “not sincere”, and his apology to the Arab citizens of Israel was denigrated.
And now the next level has been reached: Israel has been accused of spying on the US in its talks with Iran, and then doing the unthinkable – revealing those secrets to… which traitor could it be? … to Congress!
Soon after the U.S. and other major powers entered negotiations last year to curtail Iran’s nuclear program, senior White House officials learned Israel was spying on the closed-door talks.
The spying operation was part of a broader campaign by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government to penetrate the negotiations and then help build a case against the emerging terms of the deal, current and former U.S. officials said. In addition to eavesdropping, Israel acquired information from confidential U.S. briefings, informants and diplomatic contacts in Europe, the officials said.
The espionage didn’t upset the White House as much as Israel’s sharing of inside information with U.S. lawmakers and others to drain support from a high-stakes deal intended to limit Iran’s nuclear program, current and former officials said.
“It is one thing for the U.S. and Israel to spy on each other. It is another thing for Israel to steal U.S. secrets and play them back to U.S. legislators to undermine U.S. diplomacy,” said a senior U.S. official briefed on the matter.
The U.S. and Israel, longtime allies who routinely swap information on security threats, sometimes operate behind the scenes like spy-versus-spy rivals. The White House has largely tolerated Israeli snooping on U.S. policy makers—a posture Israel takes when the tables are turned.
The White House discovered the operation, in fact, when U.S. intelligence agencies spying on Israel intercepted communications among Israeli officials that carried details the U.S. believed could have come only from access to the confidential talks, officials briefed on the matter said.
Wait. What? The US spied on Israel? And that doesn’t elicit any outrage from Israel? Spying is a one-way street only? I’m staggered at the brazen chutzpah of the Americans.
Israeli officials denied spying directly on U.S. negotiators and said they received their information through other means, including close surveillance of Iranian leaders receiving the latest U.S. and European offers. European officials, particularly the French, also have been more transparent with Israel about the closed-door discussions than the Americans, Israeli and U.S. officials said.
Using levers of political influence unique to Israel, Messrs. Netanyahu and Dermer calculated that a lobbying campaign in Congress before an announcement was made would improve the chances of killing or reshaping any deal. They knew the intervention would damage relations with the White House, Israeli officials said, but decided that was an acceptable cost.
Is the phrase I highlighted in bold above a reference to sinister Jewish influence? I’m hard put to find any other explanation for the strange wording.
The campaign may not have worked as well as hoped, Israeli officials now say, because it ended up alienating many congressional Democrats whose support Israel was counting on to block a deal.
Obama administration officials, departing from their usual description of the unbreakable bond between the U.S. and Israel, have voiced sharp criticism of Messrs. Netanyahu and Dermer to describe how the relationship has changed.
The constant assurances of this unbreakable bond has been sounding hollow for quite some time now. I wish they would just stop. They’re not convincing anyone any more, least of all themselves.
“People feel personally sold out,” a senior administration official said. “That’s where the Israelis really better be careful because a lot of these people will not only be around for this administration but possibly the next one as well.”
Here we go again with the “nice little country you got there, shame if anything happened to it” syndrome.
The story takes another twist when Israel denies any and all allegations of spying against the US, but then the possibility is raised that Israel spied against the Europeans. Or the Iranians. Or both. Or all of them. In truth, this would make for a marvellous comic thriller if it weren’t so serious.
The WSJ report continues:
A senior official in the prime minister’s office said Monday: “These allegations are utterly false. The state of Israel does not conduct espionage against the United States or Israel’s other allies. The false allegations are clearly intended to undermine the strong ties between the United States and Israel and the security and intelligence relationship we share.”
Current and former Israeli officials said their intelligence agencies scaled back their targeting of U.S. officials after the jailing nearly 30 years ago of American Jonathan Pollard for passing secrets to Israel.
While U.S. officials may not be direct targets, current and former officials said, Israeli intelligence agencies sweep up communications between U.S. officials and parties targeted by the Israelis, including Iran.
As secret talks with Iran progressed into 2013, U.S. intelligence agencies monitored Israel’s communications to see if the country knew of the negotiations. Mr. Obama didn’t tell Mr. Netanyahu until September 2013.
Maybe if Obama had kept Israel in the loop, Israel wouldn’t have felt the need to spy on anyone. If they did, that is… And the Americans could have then saved themselves the paranoia.
Israeli officials, who said they had already learned about the talks through their own channels, told their U.S. counterparts they were upset about being excluded. “ ‘Did the administration really believe we wouldn’t find out?’ ” Israeli officials said, according to a former U.S. official.
The U.S. routinely shares information with its European counterparts and others to coordinate negotiating positions. While U.S. intelligence officials believe secured U.S. communications are relatively safe from the Israelis, they say European communications are vulnerable.
Mr. Netanyahu and his top advisers received confidential updates on the Geneva talks from Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs Wendy Sherman and other U.S. officials, who knew at the time that Israeli intelligence was working to fill in any gaps.
The White House eventually curtailed the briefings, U.S. officials said, withholding sensitive information for fear of leaks.
Current and former Israeli officials said their intelligence agencies can get much of the information they seek by targeting Iranians and others in the region who are communicating with countries in the talks.
The information that Israel received eventually led to Netanyahu delivering his speech in Congress. At the same time Ambassador Ron Dermer worked to update Congress with this information that Congress itself had not received from the Administration!
Mr. Dermer and other Israeli officials over the following weeks gave lawmakers and their aides information the White House was trying to keep secret, including how the emerging deal could allow Iran to operate around 6,500 centrifuges, devices used to process nuclear material, said congressional officials who attended the briefings.
The Israeli officials told lawmakers that Iran would also be permitted to deploy advanced IR-4 centrifuges that could process fuel on a larger scale, meeting participants and administration officials said. Israeli officials said such fuel, which under the emerging deal would be intended for energy plants, could be used to one day build nuclear bombs.
The information in the briefings, Israeli officials said, was widely known among the countries participating in the negotiations.
When asked in February during one briefing where Israel got its inside information, the Israeli officials said their sources included the French and British governments, as well as their own intelligence, according to people there.
“Ambassador Dermer never shared confidential intelligence information with members of Congress,” Mr. Sagui said. “His briefings did not include specific details from the negotiations, including the length of the agreement or the number of centrifuges Iran would be able to keep.”
Besides the seriousness of the espionage allegations made by the White House, the question arises – again – why someone, Obama or one of his aides, decided to leak the story to the press instead of confronting Israel directly, whether by a phone call to Netanyahu himself or by summoning Ambassador Dermer.
Former Defence Minister Moshe Yaalon said it is evident that “someone is determined to spark a dispute between Israel and the US“:
Referring to the report during a visit to Nesher, Ya’alon said, “I can tell you, as someone who knows the intelligence community from very up close for twenty years, since I was head of Military Intelligence in 1995, that there is no way, was no way, that Israel would spy on the Americans.”
Ya’alon added that a ban on spying activities against the US has been in place and enforced by all governments he has known for two decades, and that this certainly remains the case. “No Israeli intelligence organization spies on the Americans,” Ya’alon affirmed.
Ya’alon asked the intelligence community whether they received a complaint about improper conduct from the US, adding, “We did not receive any complaint. But someone apparently has an interest in stoking conflict, or bringing a negative twist to relations between us, which are strategic relations from our perspective.”
The story smells more of the petty vindictiveness which has come to characterise Barack Obama and his Administration than any serious espionage story. It can be summarized in these few (sometimes amusing) tweets:
And last, these rather sad ones:
We’re getting to the stage where I fear that the next accusation against Israel will be “poisoning the wells”.