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Why the US Accusations Against Israeli Intelligence are Wrong

For the past two days there are have been a spate of articles triggered by  Newsweek contributing editor, Jeff Stein, who wrote a Spy Talk column with accusations alleging that Israeli Intelligence are operating in the US is at “alarming levels,” “Israel won’t stop spying on the US”. Stein’s accusations:

U.S. intelligence officials are saying—albeit very quietly, behind closed doors on Capitol Hill—that our Israeli “friends” have gone too far with their spying operations here.

According to classified briefings on legislation that would lower visa restrictions on Israeli citizens, Jerusalem’s efforts to steal U.S. secrets under the cover of trade missions and joint defense technology contracts have “crossed red lines.”

This despite a long term valued collaboration by US defense intelligence agencies with Israel. Stein’s anonymous sources appear to paint all Israelis as potential spies.

Stein’s allegations were immediately slammed by Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman and an Israeli Embassy official in Washington. The Jewish Press noted:

First of all, these are malicious accusations. . . I would not agree to any spying on the United States, not in any form, directly or indirectly.

Israeli Embassy spokesperson Aaron Sagui also flatly denied the charges, telling Newsweek, “Israel doesn’t conduct espionage operations in the United States, period. We condemn the fact that such outrageous, false allegations are being directed against Israel.

The Stein accusations come amidst strains in the relations between the Administration and Israel over the collapse of the failed final status agreements with the Palestinian Authority. This was reflected in Ynet interviews with an unidentified “senior US official” many believe to be former US Ambassador to Israel Martin Indyk. The Ynet reports suggested that the US might impose its own terms on both the PA newly unified with Hamas and Israel.

Moreover, tensions between Washington and Jerusalem have increased over the latter’s criticism of the P5+1 talks with Iran over curtailment of its nuclear program. That may be part of the agenda that National Security Advisor Susan Rice brought yesterday for discussions with the Netanyahu government. Those intelligence red line accusations may be behind the tightening of visas for visiting Israelis. This sudden swirl triggered by the Stein  piece in Newsweek has led to an unidentified senior Israeli diplomatic official suggesting in a Ynereport that the accusation may have been “tainted by a whiff of anti-Semitism.” That is reflected in Stein’s Newsweek Spy Talk column interviews with former CIA officials resurrecting the rogue Israeli intelligence operation involving imprisoned American spy Jonathan Pollard.

Jeff Stein appears to be touting a line perpetrated by a former FBI intelligence director, David Szady, back in the middle part of the last decade that there was an Israeli mole or moles borrowing into our national security establishment based on the Pollard conviction for spying. Just recall the FBI sting operation against former Defense analyst Larry Franklin at DoD used against the two former AIPAC senior staffers. Rosen and Weissman were falsely accused. A Federal Judge dismissed the wrongful prosecution brought as a result of Szady’s false accusations. I wrote about this eight years ago in an Israpundit article: “Are we all Jonathan Pollards, now?”

An AFP article, based on Stein’s Newsweek column cites unidentified former Congressional aides in his report said:

. . .  a congressional staffer familiar with a briefing last January called the testimony “very sobering … alarming … even terrifying”, and quoted another as saying the behavior was “damaging.”

“No other country close to the United States continues to cross the line on espionage like the Israelis do,” said a former congressional staffer who attended another classified briefing in late 2013, according to Newsweek.

It said that briefing was one of several in recent months given by the Department of Homeland Security, the State Department, the FBI and the National Counterintelligence Directorate.

The former congressional staffer said the intelligence agencies did not give specifics, but cited “industrial espionage—folks coming over here on trade missions or with Israeli companies working in collaboration with American companies, [or] intelligence operatives being run directly by the government, which I assume meant out of the [Israeli] Embassy.”

Israel’s espionage activities in America are unrivaled and go far beyond activities by other close allies, such as Germany, France, Britain and Japan, counter-intelligence agents told members of the House Judiciary and Foreign Affairs committees,.

“I don’t think anyone was surprised by these revelations,” the former aide was quoted as saying.

“But when you step back and hear … that there are no other countries taking advantage of our security relationship the way the Israelis are for espionage purposes, it is quite shocking”.

A 2011 Los Angeles Times op-ed by Robert D. Blackwill and Walter B. Slocombe, “Israel: A True Ally in the Middle East” noted:

Counter-terrorism and intelligence cooperation is deep and extensive, with the United States and Israel working to advance their common interest in defeating the terrorism of Hamas, Hezbollah and Al Qaeda and its affiliate groups, and preventing nuclear proliferation in the region. There are joint Special Forces training and exercises and collaboration on shared targets.

This intimate relationship reinforces overall U.S. intelligence efforts by providing Washington with access to Israel’s unique set of capabilities for information collection and assessments on key countries and issues in the region. Such was the case, for example, when Israel passed to the United States conclusive photographic evidence in 2007 that Syria, with North Korean assistance, had made enormous strides toward “going hot” with a plutonium-producing reactor.

Slocombe was Undersecretary for Defense Policy at the Pentagon during the Clinton era, while Blackwill served as a diplomat during several Republican Administrations. Their comments in the Los Angeles Times report was drawn from a paper published by the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. A Tablet article cited  the authors’ views  in the paper at the time on the extensive Israeli contributions to US national security:

The paper offers chapter and verse on Israeli contributions to the U.S. national interest. They include: Israeli counter-proliferation efforts, such as the 1981 bombing of Iraq’s Osirak nuclear facility and the 2007 attack on Syria’s secret nuclear facility at al-Kibar; joint military training exercises, as well as exchanges on military doctrine; Israeli technology, like unmanned aerial systems, armored vehicle protection, defense against short-range rocket threats, and robotics; missile defense cooperation; counterterrorism and intelligence cooperation; and cyber defense. Blackwill and Slocombe conclude that the alliance is in fact so central to U.S. national interests that U.S. policymakers should find ways to further enhance cooperation with Jerusalem.

Fast forward to 2014. Stein’s Spy Talk column indicates that something sinister is going on in the Washington intelligence community. That Israel, globally recognized  as an acknowledged leader in high tech in both civilian and military applications, needed  to spy on US industrial developments. Doesn’t square. Stein’s anonymous sources on Capitol Hill and in the FBI, CIA, State Department and Homeland Security may be reflecting the Administration’s pique at Israel’s asserting its sovereign right to defend the Jewish nation. A Jewish nation with Jihadist threats ranging on all of its borders seeking its destruction.

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EDITORS NOTE: This column originally appeared on The New English Review.