So, Israel Was Spying On Us During The Iran Negotiations

Matt Vespa
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Posted: Mar 24, 2015 1:10 PM
So, Israel Was Spying On Us During The Iran Negotiations

In a development that will surely make the relationship the Obama administration has with Israel icier, senior White House officials have learned that Israeli intelligence has been eavesdropping on the current Iranian negotiations. Yet, that’s not really why they’re upset. As the Wall Street Journal reported, the White House, more or less, turns a blind eye to Israeli snooping on our officials and they do the same when we engage in eavesdropping of our own on them. The problem is that Netanyahu and Israeli Ambassador Ron Dermer used that intelligence to try and lobby Congress against the Iran deal. This comes after Israel was shut out of the secretive talks Obama started with Iran in 2012, citing the need to prevent “leaks.” That’s when the bad blood–for a lack of a better term–began between the two administrations:

Distrust between Mr. Netanyahu and Mr. Obama had been growing for years but worsened when Mr. Obama launched secret talks with Iran in 2012. The president didn’t tell Mr. Netanyahu because of concerns about leaks, helping set the stage for the current standoff, according to current and former U.S. and Israeli officials.

As secret talks with Iran progressed into 2013, U.S. intelligence agencies monitored Israel’s communications to see if the country knew of the negotiations. Mr. Obama didn’t tell Mr. Netanyahu until September 2013.

Israeli officials, who said they had already learned about the talks through their own channels, told their U.S. counterparts they were upset about being excluded. “ ‘Did the administration really believe we wouldn’t find out?’ ” Israeli officials said, according to a former U.S. official.

The episode cemented Mr. Netanyahu’s concern that Mr. Obama was bent on clinching a deal with Iran whether or not it served Israel’s best interests, Israeli officials said. Obama administration officials said the president was committed to preventing Iran from developing nuclear weapons.

Mr. Dermer started lobbying U.S. lawmakers just before the U.S. and other powers signed an interim agreement with Iran in November 2013. Mr. Netanyahu and Mr. Dermer went to Congress after seeing they had little influence on the White House.

Before the interim deal was made public, Mr. Dermer gave lawmakers Israel’s analysis: The U.S. offer would dramatically undermine economic sanctions on Iran, according to congressional officials who took part.

When the next round of negotiations with Iran started in Switzerland last year, U.S. counterintelligence agents told members of the U.S. negotiating team that Israel would likely try to penetrate their communications, a senior Obama administration official said.

Mr. Netanyahu and his top advisers received confidential updates on the Geneva talks from Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs Wendy Sherman and other U.S. officials, who knew at the time that Israeli intelligence was working to fill in any gaps.

In November, the Israelis learned the contents of a proposed deal offered by the U.S. but ultimately rejected by Iran, U.S. and Israeli officials said. Israeli officials told their U.S. counterparts the terms offered insufficient protections.

U.S. officials urged the Israelis to give the negotiations a chance. But Mr. Netanyahu’s top advisers concluded the emerging deal was unacceptable. The White House was making too many concessions, Israeli officials said, while the Iranians were holding firm.

On Jan. 21, House Speaker John Boehner (R., Ohio) announced Mr. Netanyahu would address a joint meeting of Congress. That same day, Mr. Dermer and other Israeli officials visited Capitol Hill to brief lawmakers and aides, seeking a bipartisan coalition large enough to block or amend any deal.

Most Republicans were already prepared to challenge the White House on the negotiations, so Mr. Dermer focused on Democrats. “This deal is bad,” he said in one briefing, according to participants.

Mr. Dermer and other Israeli officials over the following weeks gave lawmakers and their aides information the White House was trying to keep secret, including how the emerging deal could allow Iran to operate around 6,500 centrifuges, devices used to process nuclear material, said congressional officials who attended the briefings.

The Israeli officials told lawmakers that Iran would also be permitted to deploy advanced IR-4 centrifuges that could process fuel on a larger scale, meeting participants and administration officials said. Israeli officials said such fuel, which under the emerging deal would be intended for energy plants, could be used to one day build nuclear bombs.

The information in the briefings, Israeli officials said, was widely known among the countries participating in the negotiations.

The Journal noted that this week the Israeli delegation is set to meet with the French, who is more in-line with them over these Iranian negotiations; a move that could complicate things for the Obama administration. As a result, the U.S. is working to prevent fallout from this visit regarding the negotiations. France has taken the position that they want “an agreement over Iran's nuclear program that was sufficiently robust to guarantee that Tehran could not acquire an atomic bomb,” as reported by Reuters.

Yet, while the Obama administration is irked about Israeli intelligence sharing information they wanted to keep secret from members of Congress, there’s also the allegation that the Obama White House was meddling in the latest Israeli elections (via the Hill):

"What was not well reported in the American media is that President Obama and his allies were playing in the election to defeat Prime Minister Netanyahu," John McLaughlin, a Republican strategist, said in an interview on John Catsimatidis's "The Cats Roundtable" radio show broadcast Sunday on AM 970 in New York.

"There was money moving that included taxpayer U.S. dollars, through non-profit organizations. And there were various liberal groups in the United States that were raising millions to fund a campaign called V15 against Prime Minister Netanyahu," McLaughlin said.

He noted an effort to oust Netanyahu was guided by former Obama political operative Jeremy Bird and that V15, or Victory 15, ads hurt Netanyahu in the polls. McLaughlin said the Israeli leader rebounded after delivering a speech to Congress early this month, prompting more critical ads.

Netanyahu soundly beat his liberal opponents in last week's election.

UPDATE: Iran rejects UN request for snap nuclear inspections, calls then "illegal."