Israeli leaders reacted to news that US and British intelligence agencies spied on Prime Minster Benjamin Netanyahu and his predecessor Ehud Olmert. Evidence of the espionage was found in documents leaked by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden last week.
While Netanyahu’s office initially declined to issue a formal response to the news, the prime minister said Monday, “With regard to things published in the past few days, I have asked for an examination of the matter.”
“In the close ties between Israel and the United States, there are things that must not be done and that are not acceptable to us,” Netanyahu added in the broadcast remarks.
Minister of Intelligence Yuval Steinitz also spoke out against the spying, saying it was “unacceptable,” but acknowledged that Israel understood even allies would try to “listen in.”
Speaking on Channel 2’s “Meet the Press,” Steinitz said, “Israel has unique intelligence relationships with the US and Britain—it [operates] like one intelligence community that shares information. Under these conditions, I think it’s unacceptable. We don’t spy on the US President and the White House.” But, he added, Israel’s “working assumption is that even friendly countries try to listen in, and [Israel] takes the necessary security measures.”
Channel 2 reported Friday that Netanyahu sometimes resorted to gestures to avoid being recorded by foreign spy agencies. The Israeli prime minister does not have a computer, use email, or maintain a private phone line, specifically to avoid hacks and taps. The report added that Netanyahu conducts his most sensitive discussions in Mossad offices, confident there he is safe from listening devices.
Netanyahu and former defense minister Ehud Barak both worked under the assumption that they were being surveilled, the report contended. Ynet reported Sunday that US intelligence rented an apartment across the street from Barak’s offices in order to spy on him from 2008-2009.
Netanyahu used the recent developments to draw attention to the case of jailed spy Jonathan Pollard, who passed US information to Israel.
“We do not need any special event in order to discuss the release of Jonathan Pollard,” Netanyahu told his ministers at his Sunday cabinet meeting. “We hope that the conditions will be created that will enable us to bring Jonathan home. This is neither conditional on, nor related to, recent events, even though we have given our opinion on these developments.”
Ayelet Shaked, who chairs the Knesset caucus that lobbies for Pollard’s release, was more direct. He told The Washington Post, “It is completely unfathomable that the United States, a most trusted ally and friend of Israel, would hold to such a blatant double standard by continuing to keep Jonathan Pollard in prison while at the same time conducting systematic espionage against Israeli officials.”