The Wall Street Journal reported on Tuesday that Israel has spied on the United States to get information about the ongoing negotiations to curb Iran’s nuclear program. The paper cited unnamed officials in the Obama administration who said that the White House was upset that Israel used the obtained information to lobby Congress to try to sink the emerging deal with Iran.
“It’s 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, according to the Wall Street Journal.
The Israeli government denied the story. A spokesman for the Prime Minister’s office said: “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.”
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Commentators in Israel suspect the Obama administration leaked the story to the Wall Street Journal in order to increase the pressure on Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu. They pointed to the timing of the publication of the story a week after Netanyahu booked a resounding victory in the Israeli election and a couple of days after Obama escalated the conflict with Netanyahu over his pre-election comment about the impossibility of establishing a Palestinian state anytime soon.
Middle-East expert Tzvi Yechezkieli commented on the affair during an interview with TV channel Arutz 10. He said that it is fair to assume Israel did spy on the nuclear talks with Iran, but that everybody knows that the Mossad obtains its information via sources in Iran. So Israel has been spying on Iran, he said.
Others pointed to the fact that the administration didn’t say a word when Iranian FM Zarif leaked details about Obama’s Security Council gambit.
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The White House didn’t protest either when Zarif revealed that the Obama administration had repeatedly given ground on the centrifuge count and has now agreed to allow Iran to operate 6000 centrifuges.
The Israeli pundits also said that the Wall Street Journal story is replete with references to how US spying on Israel is how the Obama administration learned about it. The administration discovered the Israeli operation when U.S. intelligence services spying on Israel intercepted communication among Israeli officials, WSJ reported.
This was not the first time U.S. intelligence services were caught spying on Israel. In 2013, Time Magazine revealed that the United States and Great Britain had been monitoring e-mail from former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Defense Minister Ehud Barak. This spying scandal also ignited a spat between the strategically allied countries.
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The leaking of stories about Israel spying on the United States has been a tool to pressure Israel for the last 40 years whenever relations were bad between the governments of the two countries. But now, the Obama administration accuses Israel of delivering classified information to U.S. lawmakers in order to influence the political dispute on Iran between the President and Congress.
The same Israeli commentators say that this shows that the administration admits that the reason the U.S. was classifying details of the negotiations was to keep Congress out of the loop. Furthermore, they say, if Israel needed to spy on the U.S. to get information about a deal that is of enormous importance for the future of the country and the Middle East as a whole, what does that say about the special relationship between the countries and Israel’s status as a true and trustworthy ally?
Analyst Ron Yishai wrote on the Ynet news site that the reports of alleged Israeli espionage are part of a campaign waged by the United States, with a clear political purpose.
Yishai: “This is not just a political vendetta against Benjamin Netanyahu, but a calculated political move by the Obama administration that was planned long before the Israeli elections, in case Netanyahu won.
Netanyahu is facing a media blitz against him being managed by the White House.
Behind this media campaign, the administration is hiding deep concerns regarding two issues: the danger that Israel will torpedo the nuclear agreement with Iran and the fear that a narrow right-wing government in Israel will lead to an even larger and more violent conflict with the Palestinian Authority and Hamas in Gaza.
The Americans want to lower the flames of the steadily developing conflict between Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. To achieve this, the US administration wants to influence the composition of the next Israeli government.
In Washington they are saying that if possible, they will prevent the establishment of a narrow right-wing government, and if such a government is formed, ensure that the key ministerial posts are given to relative “moderates”.
In addition, the Obama administration is trying to influence the political platform of the next Israeli government,” Yishai wrote
He continued:”The accusations of spying made against Israel are primarily designed to limit the ability of Republican lawmakers in Congress to act against the agreement with Iran. Any member of Congress, Republican or Democratic, who uses the information received from Israel to vote against the agreement with Iran, is actually guilty of a form of treason as he or she made use of material obtained through alleged espionage against the United States.
In the battle for hearts and minds, Obama is waging war on Netanyahu not only out of revenge, but also as a way of setting a strategic policy, before the Israeli government is formed and before it is too late,” he concluded.
Yishai is probably right; the WSJ journalist who wrote the story about the spy scandal told Israeli News Show Mabat that he started to work on the story after the U.S. administration threatened Netanyahu not to divulge any secrets during his speech to Congress.
Netanyahu heeded that warning and told Congress all details of the emerging deal he discussed during the address could be googled. But Obama’s threat showed that the administration knew that Israel obtained secret details of the emerging deal.
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The question now is what Obama’s administration will achieve.
Israeli analysts think that the administration might be overplaying its hand, inviting a backlash of sympathy for Netanyahu. Obama’s words and actions are regarded as patronizing and as disrespectful not only to Netanyahu, but to the Israeli public as well.
Obama seems to forget that Netanyahu just won an impressive victory in the Israeli election and that the President’s standing in Israel has sunk to an all time low. He should have learned something about Israeli politics and the spirit of the Israeli people after his interference in the Israeli election backfired.
His interference in the composition of the new Israeli government will only lead to more resistance in Israel against his politics on Iran and on the conflict with the Palestinians.
Bret Stephens, who was once the editor-in-chief of The Jerusalem Post, probably got it right in his analysis about Obama’s Middle-East policies and Israel in the Wall Street Journal yesterday.
Stephens concluded his article as follows: “The Israelis will need to chart their own path of resistance. On the Iranian nuclear deal, they may have to go rogue: Let’s hope their warnings have not been mere bluffs. Israel survived its first 19 years without meaningful U.S. patronage. For now, all it has to do is get through the next 22, admittedly long, months.”
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