JERUSALEM: Israel’s intelligence minister called reported US wiretapping of an Israeli premier “unacceptable” amid renewed calls Sunday for the release of jailed Israeli spy Jonathan Pollard.
“We have of late exceptional intelligence relations with the United States and the British, it’s almost one intelligence community,” Yuval Steinitz told private television Channel 2’s “Meet the Press” late Saturday.
“Under such conditions I think it is unacceptable,” Steinitz said.
“We do not spy on the president of the United States or the White House. The rules have been made clear. We have made certain commitments on the matter and we honor them.”
The New York Times reported on Friday that in monitoring more than 1,000 targets in upwards of 60 countries between 2008 to 2011, US and British intelligence agencies tapped the communications of then Israeli premier Ehud Olmert, among other foreign leaders, according to secret documents revealed by intelligence contractor Edward Snowden.
MP Nachman Shai, a diplomat in Israel’s Washington embassy in the early 1980s, said Sunday that he had called a debate on the affair in an influential parliamentary committee.
“Our working assumption was that we are being listened to, including by the Americans, but that doesn’t make it permissible or… ethical, and at the end of the day, when it is discovered, it cannot be ignored,” he told public radio.
“I have asked for a debate by the Knesset foreign affairs and defense committee,” he added.
“We need to know if the US listened in to us, what it listened to and what should be our response.”
Shai said Israel and its close strategic ally had agreed not to spy upon one another in the wake of the 1985 arrest in Washington of former US Navy analyst Pollard, who gave Israel thousands of secret documents about US espionage in the Arab world.
‘Cell door should be opened’
Pollard was sentenced to life imprisonment, and reports that the US also spied on its friends brought fresh calls for his release.
These were amplified by a report in the daily Yediot Aharonot on Sunday that in 2007, when Ehud Barak was defence minister, the US embassy in Tel Aviv rented an apartment opposite Barak’s penthouse and moved in “a large quantity of electronic equipment”.
“If it’s true it is very, very grave,” MP Tzahi Hanegbi of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party told Israeli army radio.
“That’s classic espionage, [the same activity]for which Jonathan Pollard has been in prison for almost 30 years.
“If it’s true, Pollard’s cell door should be opened and he should be allowed to go home before this day is out,” Hanegbi added.
Netanyahu on Sunday said that he was constantly working for Pollard’s release, but he did not directly comment on the Times story.
“We do not need any special event in order to discuss the release of Jonathan Pollard. We are dealing with it. I deal with it with all US presidents, including President Obama, all the time, including at this time,” he told Sunday’s weekly cabinet meeting.
“This is neither conditional on, nor related to, the latest events, even though we have given our opinion on these developments,” he said, without elaborating.
Veteran Israeli diplomatic writer Shimon Shiffer, commenting in Yediot, said Israeli leaders, assuming that their communications were bugged, sometimes sought to turn that to their advantage.
He recalled Ariel Sharon’s brief term as defense minister under late premier Menachem Begin, when he went on missions to Egypt after the two countries signed their historic 1979 peace treaty.
Sharon, Shiffer wrote, would make calls to Israel complementing progress in Egypt and heaping praise on president Hosni Mubarak, in the expectation that Cairo would be listening in.
But the ruse backfired when on one trip Sharon called home to speak to his mother, Vera.
“Don’t believe a single word from those Arabs, they’re all liars,” the paper quoted her as telling Sharon—and Egyptian intelligence eavesdroppers.
Maariv’s Nadav Eyal made a tongue-in-cheek reference to allegations that the US also tapped German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s phone.
“If Angela Merkel’s personal phone was tapped by the Americans, what can Israel expect? It would almost be an insult if the US didn’t try it.”