Israel accused of spying on US during Iran talks

Israel accused of spying on US during Iran talks
3 min read
24 March, 2015
US officials tell the Wall Street Journal that Israel spied on their negotiators in the Iran nuclear talks and shared confidential information with Congress to undermine any potential deal.
The discord behind the smiles has become increasingly public in recent weeks (Getty)
Israel spied on the US in an operation aimed at undermining the negotiations over Iran's nuclear programme, according to a detailed report in the Wall Street Journal.

Israel has staunchly denied the claims and asserts that the leaks are part of a smear campaign designed to undermine US-Israeli relations.

As well as eavesdropping, the officials claim Israel obtained information from confidential US briefings, informants and diplomatic contacts in Europe.

The accusation that the information was then passed to US politicians opposed to the negotiations could prove particularly damaging for the already strained relations between the Obama administration and the Israeli government.  

"It is one thing for the US and Israel to spy on each other. It is another thing for Israel to steal US secrets and play them back to US legislators to undermine US diplomacy," the Wall Street Journal quoted a senior US official as saying.

The controversy throws further light on current distrust and friction between the US and Israeli governments.

Only last month Israeli officials told Haaretz that the White House had begun to limit the scope, quality and depth of the information it shares with the Israeli government about the Iran nuclear talks for fear that it could be used for Netanyahu's own political ends.  

Snooping on the snoopers
     It is one thing for the US and Israel to spy on each other. It is another thing for Israel to steal US secrets and play them back to US legislators.
-  US official quoited by WSJ

These fresh allegations of Israeli snooping on the US were uncovered through Washington's own spying on Israel, according to the quoted officials. Meanwhile, Israel claims there has been a complete ban on spying on the US for the past two decades.

"I can tell you, as someone who knows the intelligence community from very up close for 20 years, since I was head of military intelligence in 1995, that there is no way, was no way, that Israel would spy on the Americans," said Israel's defence minister Moshe Ya'alon.

The talks over Iran's nuclear programme are at a crunch phase with a deadline looming at the end of the month in which the two sides are hoping to outline a political framework for the agreement.

If successful the deal would see a significant easing of the sanctions that are crippling Iran's economy in return for major concessions in its nuclear programme.

Tehran maintains its nuclear infrastructure is for peaceful purposes but it is viewed with great suspicion from the US, Israel, Saudi Arabia and other major powers. 

Israel remains the sole nuclear power in the region and Saudi Arabia has signalled that if it is unhappy with any deal signed with Iran then it could seek its own nuclear capability.  

The Israeli government is staunchly opposed to the whole negotiation process. Earlier this month prime minister Benyamin Netanyahu made an unprecedented address in the US Congress in which he railed against the diplomatic track being pursued by the US president, Barack Obama.    

It marked a nadir in relations between the governments and was met with concern by many in Israel who fear that Netanyahu is ostracising the country's most reliable and powerful ally while pursuing a path towards international isolation.