Middle East Newsline - December 17, 2004
Israel angered by US espionage missions against the Jewish State; protests U.S. withholding critical security information...again. [J4JP]
LONDON [MENL] - The United States has increased intelligence operations against Israel as part of an effort to prevent a war in the Middle East.
Western diplomatic sources said that over the last two years the U.S. intelligence community has increased monitoring of Israel's military and government. The sources said the move was ordered by the White House as part of an effort to prevent an escalation of the war with the Palestinians or a regional war that could begin with an Israeli attack on Syria.
"There's been concern that Israel would pull a surprise on the United States with either an offensive against Hizbullah in Lebanon or a massive attack on the Gaza Strip," a diplomatic source said. "Washington doesn't want to be surprised and would rather know this information in advance and first hand."
The sources said the result has been increased U.S. satellite monitoring of Israel to determine military movements, import and export of weapons, weapons tests and construction of housing in Israeli communities in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. They said the United States has also expanded the interception of signals communications from Israeli government and military facilities.
The U.S. effort was said to have been prompted by Israel's air attack on a Palestinian base outside Damascus in 2003. The sources said the U.S. intelligence community, despite the Bush administration's muted response, was alarmed by the Israeli attack and warned that this could mark a policy to undermine the regime of President Bashar Assad.
The most recent demonstration of heightened U.S. intelligence collection on Israel took place last month. On Nov. 10, a U.S. Navy nuclear submarine entered Israel's territorial waters off the coast of Haifa and spent several hours monitoring Israel's Navy and other facilities.
The sources said the U.S. naval intrusion angered Israeli leaders. They said that over the last few weeks, Israel quietly sent a tough message to the United States that demanded a halt in espionage missions inside Israeli territorial waters.
The Israeli message stressed that its military quickly identified and tracked the U.S. nuclear submarine, the sources said. But the General Staff refrained from ordering an attack on the asset of a friendly nation.
"The Israeli message hinted that the next time could be different," a diplomatic source, familiar with the episode, said.
The sources said intelligence relations between Israel and the United States have been strained since the 2003 war in Iraq. U.S. officials have complained several times of violations of Israeli pledges regarding such issues as defense relations with China and aggressive Israeli information collection in the United States.
On the other hand, Israel has asserted that the U.S. intelligence community was withholding critical intelligence in the Middle East, particularly from Iraq and Syria. The sources said CIA director George Tenet, who resigned earlier this year, expressed his distrust of Israel and ordered a restrained relationship with its intelligence community.
The diplomatic sources said Israel has not determined the mission of the U.S. submarine that operated off the coast of Haifa last month. They said one possible mission by the United States was to install sensors near the Israel Navy headquarters and other vital facilities.
Over the last decade, the U.S. Navy was said to have entered Israeli territorial waters as many as five times. In a show of pique, Israel's military lifted a ban that had prevented the publication of previous violations of Israeli territorial waters while senior officials broadly hinted that the latest intruder was either a French or U.S. submarine.
"In the past, there was more reticence by the United States to enter Israel's waters and more explanation of why they did so," a diplomatic source said. "There's less willingess to do that today."