Israeli anger over US wiretapping report

Sky News Australia - December 23, 2013

Israel's intelligence minister has called reported US wiretapping of an Israeli prime minister 'unacceptable' as the report rekindles calls for the release of jailed Israeli spy Jonathan Pollard.

'We have of late exceptional intelligence relations with the United States and the British, it's almost one intelligence community,' Yuval Steinitz told private television Channel 2's Meet the Press.

'Under such conditions I think it is unacceptable,' Steinitz said.

'We do not spy on the president of the United States or the White House. The rules have been made clear. We have made certain commitments on the matter and we honour them.'

The New York Times reported Friday that in monitoring more than 1000 targets in upwards of 60 countries between 2008 to 2011, US and British intelligence agencies tapped the communications of then Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert, among other foreign leaders, according to secret documents revealed by intelligence contractor Edward Snowden.

MP Nachman Shai, a diplomat in Israel's Washington embassy in the early 1980s, said Sunday that he had called for a debate on the affair in an influential parliamentary committee.

Shai said Israel and its close strategic ally had agreed not to spy upon one another after the 1985 arrest in Washington of Jonathan Pollard, a former US Navy analyst, who gave Israel thousands of secret documents about US espionage in the Arab world.

Pollard was sentenced to life imprisonment, and reports that the US also spied on its friends brought fresh calls for his release.

These were amplified by a report in the daily Yediot Aharonot on Sunday that in 2007, when Ehud Barak was defence minister, the US embassy in Tel Aviv rented a flat opposite Barak's penthouse and moved in 'a large quantity of electronic equipment'.

'If it's true it is very, very grave,' MP Tzahi Hanegbi of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's Likud party told Israeli army radio.

'That's classic espionage, (the same activity) for which Jonathan Pollard has been in prison for almost 30 years.

'If it's true, Pollard's cell door should be opened and he should be allowed to go home before this day is out,' Hanegbi added.

Veteran Israeli diplomatic writer Shimon Shiffer, commenting in Yediot, said Israeli leaders, assuming that their communications were bugged, sometimes sought to turn that to their advantage.

He recalled Ariel Sharon's brief term as defence minister under late premier Menachem Begin, when he went on missions to Egypt after the two countries signed their historic 1979 peace treaty.

Sharon, Shiffer wrote, would make calls to Israel heaping praise on president Hosni Mubarak, in the expectation that Cairo would be listening in.

But the ruse backfired when on one trip Sharon called home to speak to his mother, Vera.

'Don't believe a single word from those Arabs, they're all liars,' the paper quoted her as telling Sharon - and Egyptian intelligence eavesdroppers.

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