The official Israeli response to allegations in the Wall Street Journal that President Barack Obama ordered the National Security Agency (NSA) to spy on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as he discussed the nuclear deal with Iran has been muted.
The aim of the NSA operation was apparently to counter the Israeli prime minister’s efforts to prevent the US and other Western powers from signing a deal with Iran, which he believes is disastrous for Israel’s security .
According to the WSJ, Israeli officials “co-ordinated talking points with Jewish-American groups against the deal and asked undecided lawmakers what it would take to win their votes”.
Israel’s Transport and Intelligence Affairs Minister Yisrael Katz initially said that if the espionage allegations were true, Israel must lodge a protest. Shortly afterwards, however, the prime minister’s office ordered all ministers and officials to refrain from talking about the report.
Israeli officials were unsure on how to respond to the spying allegations because it was not clear whether the sources leaking the story to the WSJ had been aiming to sour Israel-US relations or to cause domestic damage to the Obama administration. The claims that the NSA had been listening in on conversations of Senators and Congress-members has sparked widespread criticism of the White House in the US.
Since the Jonathan Pollard case in the mid-1980s, Israel has insisted that it does not spy on the US in any way. However, former American intelligence officials have accused Israel of carrying out various forms of espionage on US targets. Whatever the reality, Israel is not interested in drawing attention to this sensitive aspect of its strategic relations with America.