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Few believe Israel denials of spying on US

Veteran American security correspondent Jeff Stein writes the SpyTalk column for Newsweek, and published a most telling piece on their website yesterday. It provided the latest insight into the contradictory, and sometimes surprisingly hostile relationship between US and Israeli spy agencies.

Israel has been seeking to join the US visa waiver programme, the list of 38 countries whose citizens are permitted to visit the US without a visa (it includes the UK).

In recent months, some reporting on this Israeli bid to join the list has supposed that US official concerns over Israeli racism against American citizens of Palestinian or other Arab decent may be hampering Israel's bid to join.

There are many published accounts of Israeli racism against Palestinian-Americans who seek to visit or work in their ancestral homeland. They are often denied entry, banned and kicked out, and are frequently treated with racist contempt, especially at Tel Aviv airport.

One such example is Nour Joudah, a Palestinian-American educator who had been teaching at Ramallah's Quaker-affiliated high school until she briefly visited Jordan and was arbitrarily denied entry on her return. Her case has been raised during the reporting of the issue. And justly so: it is only the tip of an iceberg of Israeli obstructionism.

But Stein's piece yesterday highlighted that there may be a more cynical, realpolitik factor behind the hold-up: Israel just refuses to stop spying on America.

As incredible as it may seem for a state that enjoys possibly the most important "special relationship" with the American imperial hegemon (amounting to billions of dollars in annual military aid) there are very real concerns about the issue in the US security establishment.

Twenty-seven years ago, Israeli spy Jonathan Pollard was given a life sentence for selling thousands of secret documents to Israel from his privileged position within US naval intelligence.

As Stein notes: "After denying for over a decade that Pollard was its paid agent, Israel apologized and promised not to spy on US soil again. Since then, more Israeli spies have been arrested and convicted by US courts." Israel has not seen fit to kick this habit, and now it may cost them certain advantages.

And yet – stunningly, if not surprisingly – President Barack Obama reportedly expressed willingness during the latest round of the "peace process" circus freak show to release Pollard to Israel in exchange for … not very much.

As Stein details, based on interviews with former and current US congressional staffers, intelligence officials are saying (quietly, behind closed doors) that their Israeli friends have gone too far.

"No other country close to the United States continues to cross the line on espionage like the Israelis do," according Stein's source. According to this source, Israel's main targets are American industrial and technical secrets.

In fact, things are far worse than that. Thanks to courageous whistle blower Edward Snowden, we know from leaked NSA documents that Israel is one of the main US targets for counter-intelligence operations in the world, and not merely among supposedly "friendly" states.

Published by the Washington Post last year, the NSA documents state that American counter-spies top priorities are "China, Russia, Iran, Cuba and Israel." As I noted at the time, this means Israel is spying on America – it's biggest ally – more than most other states in the world spy on America.

Responding to the claims in Newsweek, an Israeli embassy spokesperson outrageously lied that "Israel doesn't conduct espionage operations in the United States, period," and racist foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman spluttered similar nonsense in the Israeli press.

But with Israeli spying now so flagrant, and much of the US intelligence community exasperated with its supposed ally, does anyone really believe such rubbish any more?


The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.

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