U.S. President Donald Trump said at the start of his meeting with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at Jerusalem’s King David Hotel on Monday that he “never mentioned the word or the name Israel” during his meeting this month with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov.
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Trump was referring to U.S. media reports according to which he disclosed to Lavrov and other Russian officials intelligence that Israel had passed on to America about plans by the Islamic State to blow up airplanes using laptop computers.
His remark on Sunday came after a reporter from Bloomberg News asked Netanyahu about the issue during a photo-op before his meeting with Trump. The U.S. president said the media reports about his meeting with Lavrov were mistaken.
“Just so you understand, just so you understand — I never mentioned the word or the name Israel in conversation. Never mentioned it. They are all saying I did. Never mentioned the word Israel,” Trump told reporters.
But the news reports never claimed that Trump told Lavrov that the intelligence had come from Israel, only that he had shared intelligence from Israel, jeopardizing Israeli intelligence sources and methods.
Trump’s alleged passing of Israeli intelligence information to Lavrov caused concern last week in the Israeli intelligence community. Over the past several days Israeli intelligence officials have been conducting a joint probe with their American colleagues to try and understand exactly what Trump said to the Russian foreign minister and if he indeed passed on intelligence information from Israel.
In the run-up to Trump’s visit, Netanyahu and senior government officials tried to calm things down and convey a business-as-usual impression so that the reports should not cast a pall on the visit. While standing next to Trump at the start of the meeting, Netanyahu stressed that Israel’s intelligence cooperation with the United States was “terrific” and had never been closer.
U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, who briefed reporters on Air Force One during its flight from Saudi Arabia to Israel, was asked if Trump planned to apologize for giving the Israeli intelligence information to the Russians. Tillerson replied, “I don’t know that there’s anything to apologize for. ... To the extent the Israelis have any questions, or clarification, I’m sure we’re happy to provide that.”