Israel is the source of classified intelligence that US President Donald Trump disclosed to Russian officials last week, The New York Times reported just days before Trump’s first visit to Israel.
Two US officials, one current and one former, said Trump shared the intelligence supplied by Israel in the fight against Islamic State with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Russian Ambassador Sergei Kislyak during an Oval Office meeting last Wednesday, which the American press was barred from attending.
While Israeli officials have not confirmed they were the source of intelligence, Ambassador to the US Ron Dermer told the Times in an emailed statement that “Israel has full confidence in our intelligence- sharing relationship with the United States and looks forward to deepening that relationship in the years ahead under President Trump.”
There were also news reports on Tuesday which hinted that the country in question was one in the Middle East and might be Jordan.
On January 12, Yediot Aharonot
reported that US officials had warned their Israeli counterparts to be cautious in sharing classified intelligence
with the Trump administration, concerned that it could be leaked to Russia and Iran.
On January 16 and February 6, The Jerusalem Post
, in an interview with former CIA and NSA director Michael Hayden and other former US and Israeli officials, reported that those concerns might be exaggerated.
However, Hayden did say there were dangers of perception.
“If there is a danger, and I don’t know it to be true, it is that countries might be less enthusiastic to share with the US, not because of leaks, but because the US may not act on it,” said Hayden.
For example, if Trump’s “seeming disregard for intelligence – if that actually becomes the approach of his administration,” then there could be more general issues with intelligence sharing with the US.
In that scenario, “if you are Israel or any intelligence service,” anytime you share intelligence “you are in some ways marginally increasing the risk of the information being compromised. Why embrace the potential it could be compromised if it is not making a difference anyway, because the president is not paying attention to the American intelligence community?”
Several former Israeli officials earlier on Tuesday refrained from commenting, explaining that the picture was unclear or that they expected Israel was not the country in question and, therefore, wanted to stay out of the sensitive issue.
BuzzFeed reported Tuesday night that under a unique intelligence-sharing agreement, Israel had told the US of ISIS plots to smuggle explosive laptops onto planes.
Having shared threats in the Middle East, cooperation between the intelligence communities of Israel and the United States has always been close and intensified starting in the early 2000s, despite Israel not being a part of the “Five Eyes” – a term used for the core countries involved in surveillance- sharing – Britain, Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the United States.
Russia had earlier dismissed reports first published by The Washington Post
, calling it “fake news.” But facing a deluge of criticism over his handling of highly classified information, Trump took to Twitter earlier Tuesday, defending having shared “facts” with senior Russian officials, saying he had an “absolute right” to do so and had been trying to get Moscow to become more active in combating Islamic State.
“As president, I wanted to share with Russia (at an openly scheduled W.H. meeting) which I have the absolute right to do, facts pertaining to terrorism and airline flight safety,” he posted on Twitter. “Humanitarian reasons, plus I want Russia to greatly step up their fight against ISIS & terrorism.”
Trump’s acknowledgment that he gave sensitive information during a White House meeting last week undercut intense efforts by senior aides to play down the incident on Monday evening after news reports emerged of Trump’s conversations about a planned Islamic State operation.
The disclosures roiled the administration as it struggled to move past the backlash over Trump’s abrupt firing on May 9 of FBI Director James Comey, who was investigating potential ties between Russia and Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign.
Russia has denied such meddling and Trump bristled at any suggestion he owes his election victory to Moscow.
While a US president has the authority to disclose even the most highly classified information, several US and allied officials told Reuters that Trump endangered cooperation from an ally that has intelligence on Islamic State.Reuters contributed to this report.