Spy in the Ointment Further Undermines U.S.-Israel Relations

Latest espionage allegations by U.S. sources against Israel are unconvincing and point to score-settling, but do magnify underlying problems between the two countries.

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Obama and Netanyahu in the Oval Office of the White House, September 30, 2013.Credit: Bloomberg

The second installment of a series run by Newsweek is just as unreliable and inaccurate as the first one. Newsweek tells of suspicious movements in an air-conditioning duct in the hotel suite of then vice president Al Gore, during his visit to Jerusalem 16 years ago. The magazine claims that Israeli agents offered alcohol, sex and drugs to U.S. security agents in an attempt to obtain intelligence.

The story reads as a collection of fantasies, incorporating suspicion of industrial espionage, or over-aggressiveness on the part of Israeli defense contractors. Ever since Israel burned its fingers in the Jonathan Pollard case 30 years ago, it has been particularly cautious in the United States.

The claims raised in Newsweek, vehemently denied by Israel, are unconvincing.

Newsweek’s story is partly based on former American intelligence officials with a score to settle with Israel, partly harking back to Israel’s demeanor in the Pollard case and the enormous pressure it has exerted in the last decade to get him released. The issue that should trouble Israel is not the wrongful accusations per se, but their timing.

This is particularly relevant to the statements made over the last week (partly by Israeli officials), which do not lend support to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government, but rather stress the fault lines in disputed issues between it and the U.S. administration.

Relations between President Barack Obama and Netanyahu were shaky since they both took office in early 2009. The tension was exacerbated when Netanyahu interfered in the U.S. presidential elections, favoring the Republicans in 2012.

Last year, an attempt was made to improve the atmosphere between the two leaders during Obama’s visit to Israel and with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry’s initiative to restart Israeli-Palestinian negotiations.

Now things are deteriorating again after the collapse of the talks, along with Israeli criticism over the U.S. position in talks with Iran over its nuclear program.

Netanyahu still hopes to win the blame game with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas over who was responsible for the failed negotiations.

Netanyahu also wants any final agreement with Iran not to be detrimental to Israel, as he considers the interim one to have been.

Recent statements have not been favorable to Netanyahu. U.S. peace envoy Martin Indyk harshly and openly criticized the Israeli government for its conduct, stating that unrestrained construction in the territories caused irreversible damage.

With the U.S. Administration unhappy with Netanyahu’s choice of ambassador to Washington and Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon’s attacks on Kerry, there appears to be no one in Israel capable of abating the growing tension between the two governments.