'Benjamin Netanyahu categorically denies a report in Politico that Israel placed sophisticated eavesdropping devices near the White House.
“We have a directive, I have a directive, no intelligence work in the United States, no spies. And it’s vigorously implemented, without any exception,” the Israeli prime minister said in response to the report.
“It is a complete fabrication, a complete fabrication.”
Amos Yadlin, a former Israeli intelligence chief, is even trying to discredit the Politico report with the usual smear of anti-Semitism:
But there are good reasons to believe that it is Netanyahu who is lying.
As difficult as it may be to prove, given the nature of intelligence work, almost no one – certainly not the US officials quoted by Politico – doubts that Israel does spy on the US.
Almost no one – except Donald Trump who credulously accepted Netanyahu’s denial at face value.
Intended to spy on Trump
Three former officials told Politico that the mobile phone monitoring devices were found within the last two years.
“The devices were likely intended to spy on President Donald Trump, one of the former officials said, as well as his top aides and closest associates – though it’s not clear whether the Israeli efforts were successful,” according to Politico.
“One former senior intelligence official noted that after the FBI and other agencies concluded that the Israelis were most likely responsible for the devices, the Trump administration took no action to punish or even privately scold the Israeli government,” the publication added.
What gives the Politico report added weight is that US officials were already suspicious of regular Israeli spying. For one thing, the Israelis often seemed to have detailed knowledge of internal and secret US deliberations.
“Sometimes it was sort of knowledge of our thinking,” an official said.
“Occasionally there were some turns of phrase like language that as far as we knew had only appeared in drafts of speeches and never been actually used publicly, and then some Israeli official would repeat it back to us and say, ‘This would be really problematic if you were to say X.’”
As for the “directive” to which Netanyahu referred, that dates back three decades, when Israel was caught red-handed in a massive espionage operation against the United States.
In 1985, US naval intelligence officer Jonathan Pollard was arrested after spending 18 months copying and transferring to Israel the most highly classified American secrets.
Israel then reportedly traded those secrets to the Soviet Union in exchange for Moscow allowing Soviet Jews to emigrate to Israel.
Pollard pleaded guilty and was sentenced to life in prison. To assuage American anger, Israel promised to stop spying on its ally and patron.
The Israelis then spent the next three decades trying to convince the Americans to free Pollard, a move the US intelligence apparatus staunchly opposed because of the enormous damage he had done.
But according to a 2014 book by Daniel Halper, Netanyahu used the fruits of additional espionage in an attempt to blackmail Bill Clinton into freeing Pollard.
The Israeli leader intimated that details of the president’s affair with intern Monica Lewinsky could become public.
That not so subtle threat supposedly took place at a 1998 peace process summit at Wye River in Maryland.
“The Israelis present at Wye River had a new tactic for their negotiations – they’d overheard Clinton and Monica and had it on tape,” Halper wrote.
“Not wanting to directly threaten the powerful American president, a crucial Israeli ally, Clinton was told that the Israeli government had thrown the tapes away.”
According to Halper, the mere mention that the recordings existed was enough to make a “stricken” Clinton cave in.
It was only the adamant opposition of George Tenet, then the CIA chief, that prevented Clinton from freeing the Israeli spy.
It would be President Barack Obama, ever eager to prove his pro-Israel bona fides, who would free Pollard in 2015.
The Israelis may have multiple motives to spy on Trump, not least to gain insight into American strategic thinking.
But the Israelis may well hope that they might hear material that could be used to embarrass the president – kompromat, if you will.'
Read more: Why would Israel spy on Donald Trump?
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