Debate rages over leaked US belief that Mossad aided protesters

The Post has indications that the conclusions of the leaked US intelligence that the Mossad aided judicial reform protests is wrong either as disinformation or confusion.

 Israelis gather to protest the judicial reform at the Knesset (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Israelis gather to protest the judicial reform at the Knesset
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)

A debate raged throughout the day on Sunday about the veracity of what appeared to be a leaked classified US intelligence analysis saying the Mossad sought to promote protests against the government’s proposed judicial overhaul.

On the one hand, a New York Times report, based on what seemed to be authentic Pentagon intelligence, alleged that senior Mossad officials encouraged the nationwide protests.

On the other hand, The Jerusalem Post has indications that the American intelligence, even assuming it is an authentic classified document, might have misunderstood a number of complicated trends within Israel’s intelligence community.

The Post has previously reported that under director David Barnea, the Mossad, like the IDF, has allowed current employees up to a certain rank to participate in protests, provided it is during off-work hours and that they take pains not to be identified.

This is in contrast to the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency), which has prohibited its employees from taking part in any protests.

 Israelis protest against the government’s proposed judicial reforms in Tel Aviv on February 4.  (credit: RONEN ZVULUN/REUTERS) Israelis protest against the government’s proposed judicial reforms in Tel Aviv on February 4. (credit: RONEN ZVULUN/REUTERS)

In addition, huge numbers of former intelligence agents and most of the living former Mossad chiefs have strongly criticized Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, either due to his corruption trial, his judicial overhaul policies or both.

Former Mossad chief Tamir Pardo has called numerous times for Netanyahu to resign.

Most recently, retired former Mossad chief and one-time Netanyahu confidant Yossi Cohen signed a public letter calling on the prime minister to halt the judicial overhaul process in order to negotiate a compromise with the opposition. The letter was issued weeks before Netanyahu agreed to such action.

Is the US intelligence on Mossad, judicial reform a matter of disinformation or confusion?

The Post also has indications suggesting that the conclusion saying Mossad officials have tried to influence protests against the judicial overhaul is wrong, either as a matter of disinformation or as a result of confusing complex trends.

If The New York Times report and the American intelligence cables are disinformation, they could have been concocted by Russian intelligence and trumpeted by elements in Israel who wish to discredit the protest movement.

Most of the US intelligence cables that have been leaked through the Times, The Wall Street Journal and the social media platform known as Discord, pertain to Russia-Ukraine intelligence issues.

The first tranche of documents appears to have been posted in early March, but only came to light early on Sunday.

The Times report said that, “In early to mid-February, senior leaders of the Mossad, Israel’s foreign spy agency, advocated for Mossad officials and Israeli citizens to protest judicial reforms proposed by Israel’s new government.”

Several hours after the reports took hold within the Israeli media, the Prime Minister’s Office issued a statement saying the “report that was published overnight in the American press is mendacious and without any foundation whatsoever. The Mossad and its senior officials did not – and do not – encourage agency personnel to join the demonstrations against the government or any other political activity.”

The Post understands that in the fall of 2022, prior to Netanyahu’s reelection, there were plans to provide the Mossad with its own independent spokesperson, like the Shin Bet has.

However, since his election, those plans seem to have been frozen.

Given the potential conflict of interest between the Prime Minister’s Office and the Mossad in this situation, it was initially unclear whether the PMO statement truly represented the Mossad’s position.

However, the Post has established that the statement does track the agency’s stand on the issue.

Although Barnea worked for other prime ministers and contradicted Netanyahu publicly regarding the significance of the natural gas deal with Lebanon, he was still picked by the prime minister, showing that the two have a long-time rapport.

According to the Times report, the leaked documents contained compiled signals or hacking intelligence of Israeli internal communications.

A Yediot Aharonot report showed what it claimed were pictures of the two relevant cables that showed the conclusions regarding Israeli intelligence, but did not provide evidence for those conclusions.

The documents do seem to be authentic – regardless of whether the analysis is mistaken – given that the FBI has opened a criminal probe into the leak and because of the reactions from a variety of US officials involved.

Regarding the allegations themselves, getting involved in internal Israeli issues would be out of character for the Mossad, whose infrastructure is virtually all overseas, with the Shin Bet responsible for domestic intelligence issues.

Yair Netanyahu, the prime minister’s older son, has also made vague and unsubstantiated allegations that the US State Department and elements of Israeli intelligence supported the protests.

Mossad agents are often encouraged to think and act more independently than others in the defense establishment.

It was also unclear what impact the leak could have on Israel’s willingness to share intelligence with the US, given the presumption that Washington is spying on its ally.

At the same time, Israel has previously been accused of spying on America. There have been similar allegations between other Western allies, though generally the spying is framed in terms of being well-informed as opposed to indicating hostile intentions.