Israel unmoved by reports that US, UK intelligence spied on Olmert, Barak in 2009

'The New York Times' cites documents leaked by Edward Snowden indicating that surveillance was conducted against Israeli leaders, other allies.

Ehud Olmert 370 (photo credit: Courtesy INSS)
Ehud Olmert 370
(photo credit: Courtesy INSS)
Former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert.Former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert.
Unlike Germany and Brazil, which reacted furiously to reports of wide-spread US surveillance against their leaders, Israel responded mildly to Friday’s revelations that the National Security Agency monitored former prime minister Ehud Olmert and former defense minister Ehud Barak’s emails.
The revelations that appeared in The New York Times were based on documents former NSA contractor Edward Snowden leaked.
According to the report, in January 2009, spies monitored the email traffic of Olmert in the waning days of his tenure. The next month, Ehud Barak’s email traffic was intercepted.
Another target of surveillance, according to the report, was the Hebrew University’s Institute of Physics, an internationally recognized center for research in atomic and nuclear physics.
While the Prime Minister’s Office had no response to the report, Intelligence Minister Yuval Steinitz said this type of behavior was “unacceptable,” especially since the intelligence cooperation with the US, Germany and Britain was so close.
“Under these conditions, it is unacceptable to behave in this manner,” he said Saturday night on Channel 2’s Meet the Press.
Steinitz expressed his hope that the “rules will be made clear.”
Steinitz, reflecting a feeling long widespread in Jerusalem, said Israel took into account that “not only Arab states are trying to spy on us,” but friendly powers as well.
On Friday, Channel 10 reported that Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu regularly assumes he is a target for surveillance efforts, and as a result often “speaks in code” in his office.
In addition, he holds his most sensitive conversations at the Mossad’s headquarters, because there he is confident that no one can eavesdrop.
Netanyahu has no computer in his office and does not use email, because of concerns he may be under surveillance, Channel 2 reported.
The Times quoted Olmert as saying that the email address the Americans were monitoring was used for correspondence with his office, which staff members often handled.
It was unlikely any secrets could have been compromised through that channel, he said.
“This was an unimpressive target,” Olmert said. “I would be surprised if there was any attempt by American intelligence in Israel to listen to the prime minister’s lines.”
Labor MK Nachman Shai, who heads the Knesset Caucus on US-Israel Relations, called for a special meeting of the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee to discuss the American espionage.
He said that Israel has not spied on the US since Jonathan Pollard was caught in 1985.
“The silence of Israeli officials following these reports is disappointing and shameful,” Shai said.
“We cannot let such revelations pass quietly. Like Germany and Brazil, we should ask the US for clarification, or at least confirmation that such spying has stopped.”
Former US deputy defense secretary Lawrence Korb responded to the reports by saying that these revelations make Pollard’s continued incarceration for spying for Israel “completely absurd.”
US President Barack Obama commuting Pollard’s life sentence would “remove the moral embarrassment,” Korb said.
Gil Hoffman contributed to this report.