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Israel and US disputed intelligence for assassination targets

Lebanese men inspect the damage done to their homes after Israel carried out attacks in Beirut, Lebanon on 22 July 2006 [PATRICK BAZ/AFP/Getty Images]
Lebanese men inspect the damage done to their homes following Israel's invasion of Lebanon in 2006 [PATRICK BAZ/AFP/Getty Images]

Leaked documents published by whistle-blower Edward Snowden have exposed a deep rift between Israeli intelligence officials and their counterparts in the US National Security Agency (NSA) over the sharing of intelligence which the Israelis requested to carry out assassinations during the 2006 invasion of Lebanon.

Details of the rift were laid out in the NSA's internal newsletter known as SIDtoday under the heading "The Israel-Hizballah [sic] Crisis — Perspectives from an Acting SLO Tel Aviv". In the document, an American liaison officer, who is tasked with managing relations with counterparts in Israel, recounted a dispute with the Israelis over intelligence that was to be used for "targeted killings".

The Israeli demand, the US liaison wrote, "centred on requests for time sensitive tasking, threat warning, including tactical ELINT" — electronic intelligence — "and receipt of geolocational information on Hizballah elements."

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"The latter request was particularly problematic," he continued, adding that he "had several late-night, sometimes tense, discussions with ISNU," the elite Israeli equivalent of the NSA. The US official rejected the demand, and said that he provided details of "NSA's legal prohibition on providing information that could be used in targeted killings."

The acting SLO officer pointed out that, "Even with his full understanding of the US statutes, [ISNU Commander] BG Harari sought assistance from NSA for an exemption to this legal policy. To ISNU, this prohibition was contrary not only to supporting Israel in its fight against Hizballah but overall, to support the US Global War on Terrorism."

The account, published by The Intercept — which has released four years' worth of SIDdtoday material in batches — goes on to suggest that the NSA ultimately reached a compromise with the Israelis by working with the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI), and that in the end it was the Israeli team that defined the parameters and methods of what could and could not be shared with them.

According to TheIntercept, the episode recounted by the US liaison officer raises "questions of what intelligence the United States can legally share with a foreign government." This, it said, is a "notoriously murky" area.

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