Middle East Monitor has now reported about Ronen Bergman’s interview on Israeli TV in which he exposed the existence of the NSA base in Jerusalem. Its small article was picked up by Al Jazeera Arabic, which approached two U.S. Middle East analysts for their comment. One was Prof. Paul Scham of the University of Maryland. Scham apparently had read my blog posts, because he noted that the base was on Mt. Scopus. But he erred in claiming the base was in Israeli territory as this map makes clear. Further, the University of Maryland professor had no qualms about the NSA cooperating with Israeli intelligence:
[Scham] revealed he had seen some reports that the reality of the existence of this property. However [he] did not see anything in this matter as interesting considering that US-Israeli cooperation is [well] known.
He explained that the facility apparently located in Mount Scopus, [was] inside Israeli territory since the signing of the armistice agreement with the Israeli Arabs in 1949.
And on the importance of the location of the property, Scham said that the region is one of the highest mountainous areas overlooking the Jordan Valley…He said ‘this site will enable Israel and the United States to observe the east and west banks of the Jordan’, saying that this means – by implication – that Israel might reconsider its insistence on the retention of its troops in the Jordan Valley, which is claimed by the Palestinians.
…Scham explained that the [NSA] has the facilities to spy in a number of countries around the world, and I suppose that Israel is one of these countries.
[He] also pointed out that if there was some sort of a peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians, the role of U.S. intelligence with both sides will rise, and so he felt that the establishment of this facility has is an indication of the existence of progress in the peace negotiations.
Scham’s theory is novel and interesting. It’s putting a constructive gloss on the entire enterprise. It is true that the NSA base would be able to communicate with satellites monitoring the Jordan Valley and all possible terrorist infiltration routes into Israel from surrounding countries. In that sense, it might alleviate some Israeli security anxiety (though not as far as Bogie Yaalon, the defense minister, is concerned).
But this also ignores the quite destructive implications of our two nations’ security apparatuses becoming further enmeshed, so that the interests of one nation become indistinguishable from those of the other. It means that our own intelligence operations have increasingly adhered to the non-existent safeguards offered by Israel’s security apparatus to its citizens.
As I quoted yesterday from Bibi Netanyahu’s speech to Cybertech 2014, Israel sees the concept of personal privacy as “abrogated.” Personally, I don’t want my own government’s intelligence operations infected with such notions (though they already have been).
Further, this security arrangement is part of a much broader relationship with includes the NSA sharing raw intelligence data concerning U.S. citizens. I don’t want the NSA poking its nose into the business of Israeli citizens either (though it already does, I’m sure).
Michael O’Hanlon, a pro-Israel Brookings analyst, denied the base was American at all, saying to AJ:
This kind [of equipment], which he called ‘ground antennas’ can not work in all parts of the world.
He suggested in a brief statement [that the base was] a local facility in Israel [Israeli, not American], so that should help Americans in reporting on everything Washington aimed to establish [in] such a facility.
At the same time, O’Hanlon doubted that this will be the only facility set up by U.S. intelligence in the Middle East.
It’s been two days since I’ve approached the State Department and White House for comment. Still no answer. Nor has there been interest from the many journalists I’ve consulted. But I’m grateful that Al Jazeera has pursued it to the extent that it did.
UPDATE: An anonymous official did return my call and that’s essentially all I can say because of the ground rules of the conversation.