WASHINGTON – Israel’s political establishment is responding forcefully to accusations that its intelligence services spies on American leadership.
Media reports surfaced last week that Israel’s intelligence operations in the US are “unrivaled and unseemly,” extending to surveillance of senior White House officials.
Israeli leaders sought an official US response this weekend that would either condemn or substantiate the accusation.
Strategic Affairs Minister Yuval Steinitz, who holds the intelligence portfolio in the Netanyahu government, accused “someone of trying to maliciously and intentionally harm relations between Israel and the United States.”
Steinitz “unequivocally” denied the report, featured in Newsweek magazine, as having “no basis” in fact.
But the initial report was followed by one that detailed alleged US efforts to “cover up” Israel’s spying on then vice president Al Gore in 1998. It claimed that the US Secret Service caught an Israeli “agent” in an air duct in the process of bugging the vice president’s hotel room.
Since National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden leaked classified documents on American intelligence tactics, President Barack Obama has suggested that the US spies on its allies – with the tacit understanding being that the practice is mutual.
Publicly, Obama has drawn the line at spying on foreign leaders, after revelations that the US had tapped the cellphone of German Chancellor Angela Merkel. But the US president has said that foreign allies would conduct greater surveillance if they had the capability to do so.
US officials have declined to comment on the Newsweek report. Its contents could not be independently verified by The Jerusalem Post.
“There is nothing at all to that type of report,” Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman told Israel Radio last week.
“Israel is very careful, and does not participate in anything even similar to spying [in the US].”
Former Military Intelligence chief Maj.-Gen. (res.) Amos Yadlin also dismissed the allegations.
“Israel is certainly not spying in the United States,” Yadlin said. “This is a former Military Intelligence head telling you this. If you bring all of the past Military Intelligence chiefs from the past 29 years, since the of [the arrest of Jonathan] Pollard, or the past heads of the Mossad, they will tell you the same .”
Yadlin said he expects the leaders of the US intelligence community to address the American public in response to the report, and to “either say that this is baseless, or present facts.”
Yaakov Lappin and Reuters contributed to this report.