Amid reports that President Donald Trump allegedly disclosed classified intelligence provided by Israel during a White House meeting last week with Russian officials, it may be instructive to recall that the Obama administration was repeatedly and deliberately leaked Israeli military secrets that damaged Israel’s defense capabilities.
In 2012, Israel suspected the Obama administration leaked information to prevent the Jewish state from striking Iran’s nuclear facilities. The leak appeared in a Foreign Policy magazine article quoting anonymous U.S. officials that revealed Azerbaijan, which borders Iran, secretly provided Israel with airbases from which the Israeli military could strike Iran.
“The Israelis have bought an airfield,” one senior Obama administration official was quoted by Foreign Policy as saying, “and the airfield is called Azerbaijan.”
The White House denied it was behind the leak.
Former U.S. Ambassador to the UN John Bolton did not believe the White House denials: “Clearly, this is an administration-orchestrated leak. … It’s just unprecedented to reveal this kind of information about one of your own allies.”
Ron Ben-Yishai, the defense analyst for Israel’s Yedioth Ahronoth daily newspaper, characterized the U.S. leaks as a “targeted assassination campaign.”
Ben-Yishai charged the Obama White House with attempting to “eliminate potential operational options available to the IDF [Israel Defense Forces] and the State of Israel.”
“In recent weeks the administration shifted from persuasion efforts vis-à-vis decision-makers and Israel’s public opinion to a practical, targeted assassination of potential Israeli operations in Iran,” Ben-Yishai opined. “The campaign’s aims are fully operational: To make it more difficult for Israeli decision-makers to order the IDF to carry out a strike, and what’s even graver, to erode the IDF’s capacity to launch such a strike with minimal casualties.”
In April 2012, NBC News cited U.S. officials who revealed that an Iranian opposition group, the People’s Mujahedin of Iran, also known by the acronym MEK, was behind assassinations of Iranian nuclear scientists. The report alleged that Israel had worked with the MEK.
That same month, New Yorker reporter Seymour M. Hersh cited a “former senior intelligence official” confirming that Israel was working with the MEK.
Meanwhile, in November 2013, Israeli officials were reportedly furious at the Obama White House for confirming the Israeli Air Force was behind a strike on a Syrian military base near the Syrian port city of Latakia. Israeli policy is not to confirm strikes carried out beyond its borders.
Roni Daniel, a respected military analyst for Israel’s Channel 2, warned that the Obama administration’s announcement could prompt Syrian retaliation against the Jewish state. He wrote that the Obama leaks “are pushing Assad closer to the point where he can’t swallow these attacks, and will respond.”
Citing numerous Israeli media dispatches on the matter, the Times of Israel reported at the time:
Israel’s Channel 10 TV on Friday night quoted Israeli officials branding the American leak as “scandalous.” For Israel’s ally to be acting in this way was “unthinkable,” the officials were quoted as saying.
A second TV report, on Israel’s Channel 2, said the leak “came directly from the White House,” and noted that “this is not the first time” that the administration has compromised Israel by leaking information on such Israeli Air Force raids on Syrian targets.
It said some previous leaks were believed to have come from the Pentagon, and that consideration had been given at one point to establishing a panel to investigate the sources.
Just before Obama left office, he pardoned James Cartwright, the retired Marine Corps four star general who was allegedly the source of a leak describing the Stuxnet virus, which infiltrated Iran’s nuclear program and reportedly destroyed thousands of uranium-enriching centrifuges. The cyberweapon is widely acknowledged to have been built jointly by the U.S. and Israel.
On Tuesday, the rampant leaks concerning Trump continued full speed ahead, with the New York Times quoting a “current and a former American official” saying it was Israel that provided classified intelligence purportedly disclosed by Trump during a White House meeting last week with Russian officials.
The report comes six days before Trump is due in Israel for a visit and could potentially impact the U.S. relationship with the Jewish state. Indeed, the second sentence of the New York Times report states that the information about Israel reportedly serving as the source “adds a potential diplomatic complication to the episode.”
The Times failed to note that its own report, if accurate, could endanger Israel’s antiterrorism intelligence collection operations.
The newspaper continues in the second paragraph of the article:
Israel is one of the United States’ most important allies and a major intelligence collector in the Middle East. The revelation that Mr. Trump boasted about some of Israel’s most sensitive information to the Russians could damage the relationship between the two countries. It also raises the possibility that the information could be passed to Iran, Russia’s close ally and Israel’s main threat in the Middle East.
However, toward the bottom of the piece, the Times cites Lt. Gen. H. R. McMaster, Trump’s national security adviser, as telling reporters that Trump was not aware of the source of the information.
Israeli officials reached by the Times would not confirm that Israel provided the intelligence, which reportedly concerns the inner workings of the Islamic State.
On Monday, the Washington Post first reported that Trump allegedly revealed “highly classified information” during a meeting with the Russian foreign minister and ambassador, according to “current and former U.S. officials.”
The Post article acknowledged that, as president, “Trump has broad authority to declassify government secrets, making it unlikely that his disclosures broke the law.”