The White House says it uncovered the spying, which if deems a major breach of trust. Friends don’t spy on friends and then turn the material they illicitly received over to opposition politicians on Capitol Hill.
The report, which was published recently in the Wall Street Journal, quotes an unnamed official who described how and why the Americans became convinced that spying by Israel was taking place.
The official said: “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.”
Did you read that correctly?
Actually, the source revealed that the US was spying on its dear friends the Israelis. The United States was “intercepting communications” from Israel. Talk about the pot calling the kettle black.
And then, courtesy of their own and openly acknowledged act of spying, when the United States saw what the Israelis were inter alia communicating about, they concluded that the only way the Israelis could get that material was by spying.
This entire episode intends to embarrass the Israelis.
Israel received intelligence—but not by spying on the talks between the United States and Iran. And then the Israeli ambassador ran with that information to Congress.
Once again, the White House was especially interested in embarrassing the sitting and now re-elected prime minister of Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu. It is all about discipline. When you challenge the White House, the White House exacts revenge.
Israel has denied the accusation. The Israeli minister of defense said that if the US really believed that Israel had been spying on them, there would have been a spy charge against Israel, an official complaint. That is the normal protocol. He checked and rechecked and found no complaint. He investigated every channel but there was no official, or even unofficial, US complaint to be found.
Spying, as we all know, is not the only way one country accesses information about another. And there are many ways, many potential sources, from which to get information about the much heralded secret negotiations now taking place between the United States and Iran. Getting the information is the easy part, determining what to do with that information is much more difficult, crucial and dangerous.
In fact, the United States itself gives Israel a lot of information—including information on their dealings with Iran. So do other members of the P5+1. And then there are the Iranians. Israel certainly has assets and spy apparatus set up in Iran. But not in the United States. Ever since the Jonathan Pollard affair in the 1980s, Israel has agreed not to spy on the US and not to operate agents in the US.
Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, known for his very undiplomatic and brash responses, made it very clear. He said that Israel does not spy on the US. “We got our intelligence from other sources, not from the United States,” said Lieberman. “The instruction has been clear for decades now: you don’t spy on the United States, directly or indirectly.”
It cannot get clearer than that.
Yes, Israel received the information—but not by spying on the talks between the United States and Iran. And then the Israeli ambassador ran with that information to Congress.
There is, however, one important point that fell through the cracks in this discussion. It seems perfectly fine for the US to spy on Israel … but it is forbidden for Israel to even gain intelligence, even from other sources, about a risk that directly threatens its national security.