The AP published a major story about breaches of U.S. security by Israeli intelligence over the past ten years. The report emphasized alleged tampering with CIA communications gear and intrusions into the private residence of CIA officers based in Israel. But it buried what is an even more interesting, previously unknown story.
The CIA had cultivated a highly place Syrian scientist who worked in that country’s chemical and biological weapons program. The spy was reporting to the U.S. about which pathogens the Syrians were experimenting with. Because of increased intelligence cooperation between the U.S. and Israel, the former decided to share the information. It was promptly leaked by Israeli officials to the media, possibly in order to pressure Syria to drop the program entirely.
Instead, the Syrians used the media report to expose the spy in its midst. Shortly before he disappeared (likely murdered) he told his CIA handler that he was being pressured by Syrian military intelligence. It is totally characteristic of Israel to pursue its own national interests to the exclusion of all other considerations, including protecting the identity of major intelligence asset of an ally like the U.S. Hell, there are instances in which Israeli intelligence officials have betrayed the assets of other Israeli intelligence units. Witness Ashraf Marwan, who was ground to dust by the rivalry between the then-chiefs of the IDF intelligence and Mossad.
One of the aspects of this story that is revealing is that despite the fact that Israel professes not to spy on the U.S. and agreed not to recruit U.S. assets in Israel, it violates those promises routinely. It did so in the case of a female CIA officer who maintained a relationship with an Israeli foreign ministry official who introduced her to his “uncle.” He turned out to be a Shin Bet agent. This happened well after the most egregious instance of such recruitment, the Jonathan Pollard case. He stole the U.S. war plans against the Soviet Union, which were later given to the Soviets in return for the freeing of several major Jewish refuseniks.
At the CIA’s Near East desk, which handles U.S. counter-intelligence operations in the region, Israel is one of the least trusted intelligence services. Given the history outlined above, this isn’t at all surprising.
Channel 10’s intelligence correspondent, Gil Tamari, offered an explanation (Hebrew–at 15:05 mark) for the timing of this story and motivation for the leaks in it. Given that Barack Obama has been upgrading cooperation between Israeli military and intelligence agencies and their U.S. counterparts, there are elements within the U.S. intelligence community who are reminding Obama and the American public that Israel is not an ally who should be trusted with the crown jewels. They’re saying that if you do so, you will likely end up with another Jonathan Pollard episode and a huge layer of mud on your face, not to mention the serious damage that would ensue for our own national and intelligence interests. Given my own reporting on this general subject, I’d say that the warning is apt and should be heeded.
Yossi Melman, continuing his role as a faithful stenographer for Israeli intelligence, casts doubt (Hebrew) on the AP report in this Walla story:
The [AP] investigation relied on former U.S. intelligence officers, but their reliability has been cast into doubt due to the extreme sensitivity with which Israel treats relations between the two countries.
Do you see any credible evidence in that statement that confirms Melman’s claim? Similarly, Netanyahu’s office has called the report “lies.” Which is rich coming from an Israeli leader who is much more familiar and comfortable with lies than truth.
On a related, but slightly different subject, Andrew Exum published a recent report that chronicled a growing disconnect between the Israeli and U.S. militaries. He characterizes the differences thus:
In the 1980s and 1990s, U.S. military officers were eager to learn lessons from the Israeli military’s experiences in Lebanon, the Sinai Peninsula, the Golan Heights and the Palestinian Territories. Israelis portrayed Arab armies as intractable foes, while Americans still largely bought into the idea that the IDF was the finest army, pound-for-pound, in the world.
But then came Iraq and Afghanistan. Over the past decade, U.S. military officers have experienced years more combat than their Israeli contemporaries over the same period of time, and they soon grew cynical about the Israelis’ experiences and combat performance. Israeli portrayals of Arabs began to ring hollow for U.S. officers, and just as some Israelis began to view U.S. counterinsurgency operations in Iraq as dangerously naive, U.S. military officers increasingly grew to consider their Israeli peers arrogant and actually quite ignorant of the Arabs living next door. For the next few decades, it is important to note, these generations of officers will comprise the senior leadership of the U.S. military…
For many [U.S. officers]…the disastrous Israeli combat performance in Lebanon in 2006 confirmed what some had already suspected: that the IDF, despite its braggadocio, was no longer a comparable military organization to the U.S. military. Based on my interactions, U.S. military officers were more likely than other Americans to look unfavorably on the Israeli military occupation of the West Bank, and some expressed outright hostility toward the IDF.
…In 1990…2% of the officer candidates in the IDF identified themselves as religious-nationalist…By 2012, however, that percentage had climbed to 42%.
…Senior U.S. military officers do not [generally] subscribe to millenarian interpretations of Christianity that stress the importance of Jewish claims to the biblical territory of Israel. So it will be interesting to see what happens to military-to-military ties when the senior ranks of the IDF are filled more by religious settlers than by secular Israelis…
The U.S. military will…find less and less in common with an IDF convinced of its need to occupy the Palestinian territories ad infinitum. Sadly, that dilemma is not one that a few more officer exchange programs will fix.