NSA Tapped a Netanyahu-Berlusconi Call Over U.S.-Israel Relations

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Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu taking a phone call.Credit: Emil Salman

The National Security Agency (NSA) intercepted a conversation between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi on March 13, 2010, during which the former asked his Italian counterpart to help defuse tensions between Israel and the U.S., a document published early Tuesday revealed.

During their conversation, Netanyahu claimed he needed Berlusconi's help due to an "absence of direct contact" between himself and President Barack Obama.

The document leaked to the WikiLeaks website is a brief summary of Netanyahu and Berlusconi's communications that was published by the NSA for internal usage by the American intelligence community and the White House. According to the document, the call was intercepted as part of U.S. monitoring of Berlusconi's office, and not through a wiretap on Israeli lines.

The conversation between Netanyahu and Berlusconi took place four days after a crisis erupted during Vice President Joe Biden's visit to Israel on March 9 due to Israel's decision to green light 1,600 new housing units in East Jerusalem's Ramat Shlomo neighborhood, which is beyond the 1967 Green Line.

The NSA report said "Israel has reached out to Europe, including Italy, for help in smoothing out the current rift in its relations with the United States."

The call took place on an open international line, so it is likely Netanyahu knew the conversation would be intercepted by U.S. intelligence services. It is even possible Netanyahu used the conversation with Berlusconi to try to reach out to America.    

According to the report, during the conversation with Berlusconi, Netanyahu emphasized that the current conflict with the U.S. was caused by a poor decision of a government official unaware of political sensitivities. However, Netanyahu said that the publication of the building program was a continuation of Israeli policy that began in the days of Prime Minister Golda Meir.

The summary of the conversation said that Netanyahu told Berlusconi that the goal now was to prevent the Palestinians from using the current conflict as an excuse to hinder the renewal of direct negotiations with Israel or to try and advance unrealistic demands that would thwart the entire peace program.

Netanyahu "asserted that the tension has only been heightened by the absence of direct contact between himself and the U.S. president," the NSA report of the conversation said. "In response, Berlusconi promised to put Italy at Israel's disposal in helping mend the latter's ties with Washington."

The NSA report also said that other Israeli government officials, who apparently spoke with Berlusconi's advisers, believe that the current crisis is much wider that the construction plans in Ramat Shlomo, and is due to Israel-U.S. relations being at the worst low point they could remember.

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