Israel condemns US spying revelations

Officials call on US to stop spying on Israel amid renewed calls for release of Jonathan Pollard, jailed in 1980s for spying The Guardian - Source: AP Jerusalem - December 22, 2013

Senior Israeli officials have called on the US to stop spying on Israel, following revelations that the National Security Agency intercepted emails from the offices of the country's former leaders.

It was the first time Israeli officials have expressed anger since details of US spying on Israel began to trickle out in documents leaked by the former NSA contractor Edward Snowden. The scandal also spurred renewed calls for the release of Jonathan Pollard, a former American intelligence analyst who has been imprisoned in the US for nearly three decades for spying for Israel.

"This thing is not legitimate," the Israeli intelligence minister, Yuval Steinitz, told Israel Radio. He called for both countries to enter an agreement regarding espionage.

"It's quite embarrassing between countries who are allies," the tourism minister, Uzi Landau, said. "It's this moment more than any other moment that Jonathan Pollard [should] be released."

Documents leaked by Snowden - and published last week in the Guardian, Der Spiegel and the New York Times - revealed that British intelligence agency GCHQ worked with the NSA from 2008-11 to target email addresses belonging to the offices of then Israeli prime minister, Ehud Olmert, and the defence minister, Ehud Barak.

Amir Dan, spokesman for Olmert, played down the revelations. He said the email address targeted was one meant for queries from the public and was not used for sensitive communications. "There is no chance there was a security or intelligence breach caused from this email address," he said.

Barak could not immediately be reached for comment.

Leading Israeli officials work on the assumption that they are being monitored. Officials use special secure lines for certain types of communications, and for the most sensitive matters, issues are discussed only face to face in secure rooms.

Even so, Israeli officials reacted with uncharacteristic anger toward the US, Israel's closest and most important ally. Nachman Shai, a member of Israel's parliamentary foreign affairs and defence committee, which deals with intelligence matters, called for an urgent briefing on the reported spying.

Shai called for a "full report about what we know, what we have done, and just to find out". He added that he was "really surprised that my government, which is very easily responsive on any given issue, on this we keep silent, which is not the right policy and right behaviour".

Espionage is a sensitive subject between Israel and the US because of the Pollard affair. Pollard, a former civilian intelligence analyst, was sentenced to life in prison in 1987 for passing classified material to Israel. Israeli leaders frequently call for his release and say his nearly three decades in prison are punishment enough. But opposition from the US military and intelligence community has deterred Barack Obama and his predecessors from releasing him.

Since Pollard's conviction, Israel has promised not to spy on the US. Israeli ministers said on Sunday that Israel does not spy on the US president or defence secretary. "I think we should expect the same relations from the US," Steinitz said.

The Israeli prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, issued a more subdued reaction, saying that Israel continues to press for the convicted spy's release.

"This is not conditional and not connected to the latest events, even though we gave our opinion about these developments," Netanyahu told the Israeli cabinet.

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