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Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs
Strategic Alliances for a Secure, Connected, and Prosperous Region

Israeli Responses to the FBI’s Espionage Investigation Leak – A Compendium

Filed under: Israel, Israeli Security, U.S. Policy
Publication: Jerusalem Issue Briefs

Vol. 4, No. 3    August 29, 2004

  • Israel’s security establishment insists there is no Israeli involvement in allegations that a Pentagon analyst provided Israel with secret documents relating to White House deliberations over Iran – as reported by CBS News.

  • MK Danny Yatom (Labor), who served as head of the Mossad in the 1990s, disclosed on Israel Radio that there are rigid rules against any Israeli espionage activity on U.S. soil, particularly since the 1985 Pollard affair. Yuval Steinitz, chairman of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee which oversees the Israeli intelligence services, said he was confident that Israel had not abandoned this more than twenty-year-old decision not to spy on the U.S.

  • Following a similar accusation in the late 1990s, CIA Director George Tenet found the charges baseless and wrote Israel a letter of apology.

  • The CIA, unlike other U.S. intelligence agencies, has political differences with Israel over the Arab-Israeli conflict. CIA relations with Israel have cooled lately over al-Qaeda operations in Africa and Israeli information about the hiding of Saddam Hussein’s non-conventional weapons outside Iraq.

  • The background to these allegations is the domestic American debate over foreign policy, with the leak timed to embarrass President Bush on the eve of the Republican convention.

Sixty Minutes correspondent Leslie Stahl was the first to report on an ongoing FBI investigation into whether a Pentagon analyst fed Israel secret materials about White House deliberations over Iran, by using the American-Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC). Both AIPAC and the government of Israel have strongly denied the allegations. Israeli Embassy spokesman David Siegal stated: “We categorically deny these allegations. They are completely false and outrageous.” Furthermore, Mossad chief Meir Dagan and the chief of security of the Israeli defense establishment, Yehiel Horev, informed the Foreign Ministry that there was no Israeli involvement in this affair (Ha’aretz, 29 Aug 04). AIPAC issued a statement saying that “any allegations of criminal conduct by AIPAC or our employees is false and baseless” and announced that it was “cooperating fully” with U.S. authorities.

Despite all the denials, parts of the U.S. intelligence community have repeatedly suspected Israel of spying on the United States. Former Mossad head Danny Yatom revealed that former CIA Director George Tenet believed that Israel was engaged in such activity in 1997-98; Yatom flew to the U.S. for a one-on-one meeting with Tenet to prove that the charges were baseless. Tenet dropped his suspicions as a result and wrote Yatom a letter of apology (Ha’aretz, 29 Aug 04).

CIA relations with Israel have indeed cooled lately, according to Ha’aretz commentator Ze’ev Schiff, as seen by the CIA’s refusal to cooperate on al-Qaeda terrorism in East Africa and its ignoring Israeli information about the hiding of Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction outside Iraq. The CIA, unlike other U.S. intelligence agencies, has political differences with Israel over the Arab-Israeli conflict.

Diplomacy involves a regular exchange of assessments between officials from different countries. As former Israeli Ambassador to Washington Itamar Rabinovich pointed out on Israel Radio-Reshet Bet, a U.S.-Israeli dialogue about how the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) was dealing with Iran’s clandestine nuclear program would be normal; he also observed: “Professional levels in both countries exchange materials and intimately consult one another regularly” (Ma’ariv, 29 Aug 04).

The background to these allegations, according to Rabinovich, is the domestic American debate over the Iraq War, and the charge made in political circles that American Jews pushed the Bush administration to launch the war on behalf of Israeli interests. Presently, a new debate is being conducted over Iran, with the accusation being made that the U.S. is again being pushed to act militarily because of Israeli interests.

Many Israeli commentators, such as Eytan Gilboa writing in Yediot Ahronot (29 Aug 04), are convinced that the leak of an FBI investigation to CBS News was timed on the eve of the Republican convention to embarrass or even slander President Bush. Alternatively, they see a power play between officials representing the traditional pre-9/11 State/CIA approach to the Middle East and the counter-terrorist policies advocated by the Pentagon and the Office of the Vice President. Both the CIA and the FBI are fighting a “battle for survival” after repeated U.S. commissions have attacked them for failing to prevent 9/11 – Israel, according to Amir Oren (Ha’aretz, 29 Aug 04), has been “caught in a crossfire” between these agencies and their Pentagon rivals.