In the face of controversy, Israel reaffirms strong counter-terrorism coordination with the U.S.
Illinois Intelligencer - Thursday 18th May, 2017
Report revealed classified intelligence originally came from Israel
Trump held a telephonic conversation with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu
Israeli intelligence experts have said that if Trump’s actions leads to Israel losing a human source, country will be furious
WASHINGTON, U.S. - Amongst the many bad weeks Trump has had in his four-month long presidency so far - the current one might be his worst - and the week hasn’t even ended.
On Monday, The Washington Post quoted current and former U.S. officials as revealing details of Trump’s highly controversial meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Russian Ambassador to the U.S. Sergey Kislyak - which came a day after Trump had fired Comey.
Officials revealed that at the meeting, Trump had revealed highly classified information to the Russian officials, putting a source of intelligence on the Islamic State at risk.
The officials told the Post that Trump shared details about an ISIS terror threat, related to the use of laptop computers on aircraft, with the Russian officials.
Further pointing out that the information Trump relayed had been provided by a U.S. partner through an intelligence-sharing arrangement and that the intelligence partner had not given the United States permission to share the material with Russian officials.
Hours later, a report in the New York Times quoted a U.S. administration official as confirming that the original intelligence that Trump allegedly shared with the Russian minister, came from an Israeli intelligence asset based in an Islamic State-held territory in Syria.
Subsequently, reports noted that Donald Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke by phone regarding the U.S. President's visit to Israel next week.
A spokesman in Netanyahu's office confirmed the phone call but did not say who initiated it.
The spokesman clarified, "There was a call yesterday between the president and prime minister for about 20 minutes. The only topic discussed was the upcoming visit."
Israel, however, sought to contain the fallout from Trump's sharing of its intelligence with Russia.
While Israeli officials have declined to confirm whether they were the source of the information Trump shared, they were quick to claim that the counter-terrorism coordination with the United States is strong.
Israeli Defence Minister Avigdor Lieberman lauded security ties between the United States and his country, adding that it would continue to be "unprecedented" in scope.
Lieberman said on Twitter, "The security relationship between Israel & our greatest ally the United States is deep, significant & unprecedented in volume.”
Ron Dermer, Israel's ambassador to Washington, issued a similar statement, saying, "Israel has full confidence in our intelligence-sharing relationship with the United States and looks forward to deepening that relationship in the years ahead under President Trump."
Another report meanwhile claimed that Israeli intelligence experts are gravely concerned that Trump's sharing of classified information with Russia, may have compromised an Israeli agent.
They, however, don't expect any long-term consequences for intelligence cooperation.
Israeli intelligence experts were also quoted as saying that Israel had developed a deep network of human and signal intelligence across the region and it was plausible that it had managed to infiltrate Islamic State as part of that long-running effort.
Aviv Oreg, former head of the Al Qaeda and global jihad desk in the army's military intelligence department, who now runs a counter-terrorism consultancy explained in a report, “Israeli intelligence agencies have shown that they can have such human sources. It would take a lot to put someone inside ISIS. If there is an agent, I'm sure it's the only one. If we have really lost a human source over there, it's a major loss and it will take years to regenerate another one. Israel will be furious about it.”
He highlighted that it was likely to have implications for how Israel operates its human intelligence assets more broadly and may make others unwilling to cooperate with it in the future.
He, however, added that at the same time Israel understood that Trump, as president and commander-in-chief, had the authority to divulge the information, even if in doing so he had shown that he "has no experience in how to deal with intelligence."
Kobi Michael, a senior research fellow at the Institute for National Security Studies and the former deputy director of Israel's ministry of strategic affairs called Trump's leak as "very concerning" if there was a risk of having endangered an Israeli asset.
Michael described Israel as having far better intelligence capabilities in the region than the United States, making it a critical partner for Washington.
He noted, “What happened is a problem, it shouldn't have happened. But mistakes do get made, not only by the Americans but sometimes by the Israelis too. I assume that Trump had other considerations in mind and was perhaps not aware of the consequences of what he was saying. But this should not change the level of cooperation, which needs to be constantly broadened and deepened."
Trump, on his part, offered a justification of his actions on Twitter, claiming, “As President, I wanted to share with Russia (at an openly scheduled W.H. meeting) which I have the absolute right to do, facts pertaining to terrorism and airline flight safety. Humanitarian reasons, plus I want Russia to greatly step up their fight against ISIS & terrorism.”
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