Ron Dermer, Israel’s ambassador to the United States, and Israeli intelligence officials have been conducting talks since Tuesday with White House and U.S. intelligence operatives to determine if intelligence supplied by Israel to the U.S. was leaked by President Donald Trump at his meeting last week with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov.
An Israeli official involved in the contacts said Israel wants to end the joint inquiry with the Americans before Trump arrives in Israel next week so the issue doesn’t come up during his talks with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, or cast a pall on the visit. According to the senior official, Israel wants the issue cleared up at the intelligence working level between the two countries, and not come up for discussion at the top political level.
On Tuesday, a day after the first reports in the U.S. media that Trump had leaked to Lavrov sensitive intelligence information regarding a planned ISIS attack that had been passed to the United States by an ally, Trump called Netanyahu. That this conversation took place was not publicized by the White House or the Prime Minister’s Office; its occurrence was first revealed Wednesday by Haaretz and only then confirmed by Netanyahu’s office.
The Trump-Netanyahu conversation on Tuesday lasted some 20 minutes, taking place immediately after a conversation Trump had with Jordan’s King Abdullah II. Unlike the conversation with Netanyahu, which was kept secret, the conversation with the Jordanian king was announced by the White House in advance and a press release about the contents of the call was issued a few hours after it ended.
An Israeli official said the conversation with Netanyahu dealt solely with preparations for Trump’s visit, and the two leaders did not deal with the U.S. reports about the leaking of intelligence. The official also noted that the diplomatic incident regarding remarks made by U.S. consular officials to Prime Minister’s Office staffers about the Western Wall did not come up during the call, either.
Israelis don't know details yet
To date the Israeli intelligence community doesn’t know exactly what Trump told Lavrov, and officials are waiting for all the details. “We are investigating the incident,” the official said. “There are contacts and intensive discussions with the Americans. Before we get angry we have to come to an understanding with the Americans about what was really said, and if it was said, to make sure there’s no damage.”
The official added that Israel’s assessment is that even if Trump passed on Israeli intelligence, no one is in danger, nor is the incident expected to have any significant influence on Israeli-American intelligence cooperation. “Things like this have happened in the past,” the official said. “It’s a new administration and this is an opportunity to talk to the Americans, make order and set boundaries together.”
Despite the many hiccups in the preparation for Trump’s visit to Israel, talks between his people and the Israelis and Palestinians continued. Peace process envoy Jason Greenblatt is scheduled to arrive Thursday for the second time since being appointed to the post. He will meet with officials in the Prime Minister’s Office, and in Ramallah will meet with PLO secretary-general Saeb Erekat and Palestinian intelligence chief Majid Faraj.
Greenblatt is expected to speak to both the Israelis and Palestinians about confidence-building measures the United States is expecting from both sides. He will also apparently inform them both of the main messages Trump is expected to include in his address during the visit. An Israeli official said that as of now there is no three-way meeting planned with Trump, Netanyahu, and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.
On Sunday Netanyahu is expected to bring to a vote in the security cabinet a package of civilian and economic steps Israel will take in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. The proposals include opening the Allenby Crossing to and from Jordan 24 hours a day, and upgrading the checkpoints between Israel and the West Bank to ease conditions for Palestinians who cross into Israel.
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