Israel spied on talks the U.S. and its allies are having with Iran over the Islamic Republic's nuclear program, The Wall Street Journal reports.
Espionage among friends is not exactly new. In fact, the newspaper reported that the White House discovered the operation when U.S. intelligence agencies "spying on Israel intercepted communications among Israeli officials that carried details the U.S. believed could have come only from access to the confidential talks."
The current and former officials who revealed Israel's spying to the newspaper did not object to Israel's actions. But what they did object to was, in the words of the Journal, "Israel's sharing of inside information with U.S. lawmakers and others to drain support from a high-stakes deal intended to limit Iran's nuclear program."
"It is one thing for the U.S. and Israel to spy on each other. It is another thing for Israel to steal U.S. secrets and play them back to U.S. legislators to undermine U.S. diplomacy," a senior U.S. official, briefed on the matter, told the newspaper.
Israeli officials denied spying on the nuclear talks and said they had received the details from French officials. France is one the countries negotiating alongside the U.S. with Iran. The others are Britain, China, Germany and Russia.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has maintained for years that he regards Iran as an existential threat, and in a speech to Congress earlier this month — which further hurt ties with President Obama — he called the terms of the agreement being negotiated with Iran "a very bad deal." Israeli officials told the Journal that earlier this year Netanyahu and Ron Dermer, his ambassador to Washington, saw that time was running out to increase pressure on Obama before a late March deadline on the nuclear talks. The paper adds:
"Using levers of political influence unique to Israel, Messrs. Netanyahu and Dermer calculated that a lobbying campaign in Congress before an announcement was made would improve the chances of killing or reshaping any deal. They knew the intervention would damage relations with the White House, Israeli officials said, but decided that was an acceptable cost.
"The campaign may not have worked as well as hoped, Israeli officials now say, because it ended up alienating many congressional Democrats whose support Israel was counting on to block a deal."
Relations between Obama and Netanyahu, never particularly warm, have been strained over the Iran talks, the Israeli leader's speech to Congress on Iran (made without input from the White House) and his remarks on the eve of Israel's elections last week about Israeli Arabs as well as the prospect of a Palestinian state.