prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu chairs a weekly cabinet meeting at
his office in Jerusalem on Sunday. Photograph: Gali Tibbon/AP
Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu has broken his silence over
revelations that British and US spy agencies had targeted one of his
predecessors, condemning the activities as “unacceptable”.
Papers leaked by Edward Snowden, and published by the Guardian on Friday,
revealed that GCHQ in association with the National Security Agency had
targeted an email address used by the Israeli prime minister when Ehud
Olmert was in office.
further Israeli targets appeared on GCHQ documents, including another
email address understood to have been used to send messages between the
then Israeli defence minister, Ehud Barak, and his chief of staff, Yoni
have asked for an examination of the matter,” Netanyahu told members of
his ruling Likud Party at a meeting of the parliamentary faction in the
Knesset on Monday. “In the close relationship between Israel and the
United States, there are things that are prohibited and that are
unacceptable to us.”
had pointedly avoided addressing the growing storm at a meeting of the
Israeli cabinet the previous day, prompting widespread media comment in
Israel that he was attempting to stifle discussion on the embarrassing
revelations about the behaviour of Israel’s closest strategic ally.
has given undertakings not to spy on the United States since the arrest
and life imprisonment of US naval intelligence analyst Jonathan Pollard
in 1987 for spying on behalf of Israel.
and other Israeli leaders across the political spectrum, as well as
senior retired US security officials, have unsuccessfully petitioned
successive presidents to release Pollard, who has served a longer
sentence than any other spy in the US. Although Netanyahu repeated his
claim on Monday that the two matters should not be connected, he
pointedly met with Pollard’s wife Esther in Jerusalem and posted a video
of their handshake on his YouTube channel in response to a new groundswell of protest demanding Pollard’s immediate release in light of the latest revelations.
have met with Esther Pollard and updated her on our ceaseless efforts
to liberate Jonathan. He should have been released long ago. I think
that’s understood by everyone here, and also understood by large and
growing sectors in the United States,” said Netanyahu.
and the US are locked in sensitive diplomatic manoeuvring around the
peace talks with the Palestinians. This new issue could not have arisen
at a worse time.
Israeli ministers had already broken ranks and protested publicly about
NSA surveillance. Israeli anger at the US was exacerbated by a report
in Yedioth Ahronoth, the country’s largest-selling newspaper, that a US
marine rented an apartment in June 2009 directly opposite the private
home of Ehud Barak, a former prime minister and military chief of staff
who was then Israel’s defence minister.
intelligence detected sizeable amounts of electronic equipment
delivered to the US-rented apartment,” Yedioth reported, together with
diagrams of the sophisticated laser spying devices that might have been
used to eavesdrop on Barak’s private conversations via the vibrations of
the windows of his home.
affairs minister Yuval Steinitz and other officials said the NSA and
GCHQ would have learned little of value from the email addresses and
phone lines they apparently intercepted, which were publicly listed
contact points and not used for the transmission of sensitive
Yehezkel, a former military intelligence officer who was cabinet
secretary to then prime minister Olmert, said it was assumed that
communications between Israeli leaders were being monitored by their
closest friends in Washington. “Of course we knew. Anyone who thinks
that friends and allies don't spy on each other should re-read John le
Carré,” Yehezkel said.