Only a week ago I wrote in this very column of my hope for more revelations about Israel emerging from the cache of secret National Security Agency documents leaked by Edward Snowden. My wish has been fulfilled already.
A long article published in last weekend’s New York Times revealed that Israel is a high-priority target for NSA spy operations. Scott Shane wrote of documents showing NSA’s “tracking of ‘high priority Israeli military targets,’ including drone aircraft and the Black Sparrow missile system”.
It is the latest tantalizing glimpse into the complicated intelligence relationship between Israel and America.
Previous revelations have shown close US-Israel ties, including the fact that even raw US intelligence data is handed over to Israel. But considering the scale of the NSA’s global spying dragnet, perhaps it should not be a surprise that it spies on its ally Israel as well. Both spy on each other.
We now know the US spies on even close allies as a matter of routine. Other recent revelations about NSA monitoring of German Chancellor Angela Merkel, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon and the general population of France show that.
So American spying on Israel should probably not be such a surprise. Especially when, thanks to Snowden, we now know that Israel spies on America more than most other states in the world.
Accompanying Shane’s article, the New York Times published some of the actual NSA documents leaked to it. A review of the documents reveals further interesting morsels – and not just about Israel.
A 2007 “Strategic Mission List” shows that NSA considers the fanatical absolutist dictatorship of Saudi Arabia to be one of the “countries where US has interest in regime continuity”. This list also includes Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan.
One of NSA’s strategic missions is said to be providing warnings of “state instability”. One of its targets regarding “internal political activities that could result in crisis” is stated to be the Palestinian Authority. Another of America’s own allies it does not trust.
Israel is on the list of foreign intelligence service cyber threats, along with other supposed allies like France and India – but also including enemies North Korea and Cuba. Israel is also listed as one of several priorities for counter-intelligence operations along with: Iran, China, Russia, North Korea, France and Venezuela. This is a confirmation of the previous revelation about Israeli spying on America that I wrote about here — as revealed by the Washington Post.
The NSA is also engaged in spying for the sake of improving the American high technology industry. Needless to say, this once again undermines the claims of government apologists that
“Critical technologies that could provide a strategic, economic, or political advantage” (emphasis in original) are listed as high priority target for NSA spies. The documents discuss the “emerging strategic technological threat” from Israel and other allies.
In a similar vein, the document says that Israel is one of many targets for spying operations that could result in a “diplomatic advantage” for the US.
What do we learn from all this? It confirms what is already obvious from the billions of dollars American taxpayers have poured into the Israeli war machine over the years: that America is a crucial ally of Israeli war crimes, apartheid and aggression.
But it also confirms – in new ways – the ambiguities of this relationship. Israel could well be described as a proxy for American power in the region. But it is not a simple puppet regime. It has its own internal dynamics and interests – and these are sometimes hostile to those of American establishment power.
The Jonathan Pollard scandal of the 1980s shows us that. Pollard was a US naval intelligence operative who stole American secrets and sold them onto the Israelis. He was caught and remains in prison in America. Despite that, he is regarded a hero in Israel. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has often voiced support for him, visited him in prison in 2002 and recently said he would ask President Barack Obama to release Pollard early.
There is an oddly anti-American strain amongst some of the most fanatical activists in Israel’s settler movement. They claim not to need American money (presumably they think God will help them take over the rest of the West Bank), and some even call for an end to Israeli reliance on US military aid. A rare case where we can find some agreement with settler fanatics.
An associate editor with The Electronic Intifada, Asa Winstanley is an investigative journalist who lives in London
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.