Should Israel risk sharing intel with Trump after Obama admin concerns?

Despite close US-Israel relations during the current administration, the Trump era is full of paradoxes and policy positions that do not always appear consistent.

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February 26, 2018 07:09
3 minute read.
Prime Minister Netanyahu and President Trump

Prime Minister Netanyahu and President Trump. (photo credit: AVI OHAYON - GPO)

Former US president Barack Obama’s national security adviser Susan Rice confirmed that the administration had doubts about sharing classified intelligence with President Donald Trump’s administration due to concerns about their links to Russia.

Based on the sentiments expressed on behalf of Rice by her attorney – published in a letter on Friday – and following an already reported Trump intel leak to Russia in May, should Israel also be holding off on sharing top secret information with Trump’s team? It seems like a bizarre question to ask about a president who is about to move the US Embassy to Jerusalem and who many consider to be the most pro-Israel occupant ever of the Oval Office.

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But the era of Trump is often full of paradoxes as he stakes out a style and policy positions that do not always appear to be consistent.

The letter by Rice’s lawyer to the US Congress said the outgoing administration was fearful of sharing classified intelligence with members of the incoming Trump team, especially Rice’s successor, Michael Flynn.

The letter said: “President Obama and his national security team were justifiably concerned about potential risks to the nation’s security from sharing highly classified information about Russia with certain members of the Trump transition team, particularly Lt.-Gen. Michael Flynn.”

“In light of concerning communications between members of the Trump team and Russian officials, before and after the election, president Obama, on behalf of his national security team, appropriately sought the FBI and the Department of Justice’s guidance on this subject,” the letter continued.

RIGHT BEFORE Trump’s inauguration as president, an Israeli journalist reported that US intelligence officials had warned their Israeli counterparts to be careful sharing intelligence with the incoming administration as there may be a risk that the information will get to Russia and from there to Iran.

Similar reports came out afterwards about potential problems with Britain, Australia and other countries sharing intelligence with the US.

Former Mossad chief Tamir Pardo said earlier this month he had also heard warnings from Washington about possible leaks by Trump’s team to Russia.

But Rice’s attorney’s letter makes the concerns about Trump’s team fully official and makes a highly convincing case that the US intelligence officials who warned the Israeli officials were acting on orders from on high.

What should Israel do with Rice’s confirmation of concerns about Trump’s team going forward, especially in light of Trump’s May 2017 infamous leak to Russia of Israeli intelligence? Former Mossad director Danny Yatom told The Jerusalem Post he hoped Trump and his team had learned their lesson “after what happened, and the pandemonium it created, both in the US and among other nations which share intelligence with the US... like Israel, and which worry that sensitive intelligence could fall into the hands of the Russians” if Trump again violates Israel’s trust.

“Did they [the Trump team] learn their lesson? Only time will tell. But they need to meet the day-to-day test of maintaining information security with Israel and others officials from the UK, Germany and France, who share intelligence with the CIA, FBI and NSA,” Yatom said.

“And if it happens again, we would need to change the way we share intelligence with the US and not give them sensitive material,” he added.

Pressed that withholding information to the US could lead to the US, with its vast resources, withholding from Israel, he said: “That’s right. But this only happens if political officials in the US...if giving them intelligence could endanger Israel. With all of the bad and loss that might come if they did not share with us, we [still] need to guard ourselves and guard our security.”

Furthermore, though the US has far more vast intelligence collection resources globally, Yatom said, “we have much better sources than the US in the Middle East... If the US thought that it only shares, then it would not keep sharing. So the fact that they keep sharing with us so closely and intimately with the Mossad, other intelligence agencies and the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency), shows we know how to give the US information they don’t have.”

Yatom and many others are hoping that the May 2017 leak will be the only example to support Rice’s and the Obama team’s concern.


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