Ex-envoy to U.S.: Israel needs formal denial from U.S. of spy allegations

According to the report, Israel was ‘behind the placement of cellphone surveillance devices found near the White House.’

The White House is pictured in Washington D.C. (photo credit: REUTERS)
The White House is pictured in Washington D.C.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
In order to clear the air, Israel should work to obtain an official and formal denial of last week’s Politico story alleging Israeli spying on the White House, former ambassador to the US Zalman Shoval said on Sunday.
Shoval noted that US President Donald Trump denied the story in a response on Thursday to a reporter’s question, but that it “would be in order” for Jerusalem to get an official denial from the White House or the State Department.
“I don’t believe that, no, I don’t believe the Israelis were spying on us,” Trump said. “I really would find that hard to believe. My relationship with Israel has been great. You look at the Golan Heights, you look at Jerusalem, with moving the embassy to Jerusalem. You look at even the Iran deal, what’s happened with Iran. Iran is a much different country right now than it was two and a half years ago. No, I don’t believe that, I wouldn’t believe that story. Anything is possible. But I don’t believe it.”
Politico reported that according to three “former senior US officials,” the US government believes Israel was “most likely behind the placement of cellphone surveillance devices that were found near the White House and other sensitive locations around Washington.”
The report triggered a definitive and unequivocal denial from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who called the story a “blatant lie” and a total “fabrication.”
Shoval, who served in Washington from 1990 to 1993 and then again from 1998 to 2000, said allegations of Israeli spying on the US pop up from time to time, and generally come from officials or former officials in the American intelligence community who are simply not happy – for a variety of reasons – with the closeness of the US-Israel relationship.
The recent allegations, he said, reminded him of an incident in 1992, when the George H.W. Bush administration accused Israel of illegally “transferring” to China the technology relating to the Patriot anti-missile system that the Pentagon deployed in Israel during the First Gulf War.
Shoval said that he felt it important to get an official denial, because the charges themselves created a negative atmosphere that he felt it was very important to change. As a result of the allegations, questions were being raised in Washington whether it could trust Israel with state-of-the art technology.
“I had to fight very strongly to demand a real denial,” Shoval said, noting that in the end one came from Lawrence Eagleburger, at the time the US deputy secretary of state.
Another former ambassador, Michael Oren, who served in Washington from 2009-2013, said that he used to deal with these types of charges “about every year.”
When these charges emerged, he said, “we weren’t going to get [President Barack] Obama to deny it, so we always put out the same statement: Israel does not spy against the United States.”
The relationship with Trump, he said, is different than the relationship with Obama. “We expect something different from Trump,” Oren said. “It would have been appreciated in Jerusalem if the administration officials would have come out more quickly and uncategorically and called it a lie.”