Under siege for President Trump’s reported disclosure of classified information to two Russian officials last week, the White House has focused on the legality of any disclosure, saying the president can share what he wants.
But that narrow view overlooks the other implications of the disclosure. According to The Washington Post and others, the information was extremely sensitive, shared with the U.S. by an ally as part of an intelligence-sharing agreement so delicate that the details were not shared with allies, and were restricted within the U.S. government. So who was the source of the intelligence?
Some speculated the source was Jordan, especially after Trump called King Abdullah Tuesday morning. But The New York Times reports that the source for the intelligence was actually Israel:
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.
NBC News is reporting the same. If true, that revelation comes at a delicate time for the two countries. Trump has positioned himself as a staunch friend of Israel and is scheduled to visit the country next week, but several tensions have emerged between the U.S. and Israel.
Interestingly, there were reports that the Israeli intelligence community was wary of Trump long before the latest Russia news. In January, the Israeli newspaper Yediot Ahronot reported that Israeli intelligence officials were concerned that if Israel shared information with the U.S., that information could end up making its way to Russia and from there to Iran, given Trump’s praise for Russia on the campaign trail. Summarizing the reporting, Haaretz wrote:
As Russian intelligence is associated with intelligence officials in Tehran, highly classified information, such as Israel's clandestine methods of operation and intelligence sources, could potentially reach Iran. Such information has been shared with the United States in the past.
Yediot Ahronot also reported that officials in the Obama administration had warned the Israelis to be wary of Trump.
It now appears that the fear of Israeli information moving to Trump and then on to the Russians has become a reality. And it happens as Trump is scheduled to travel to Israel next week.
Israeli intelligence and defense leaders have not always seen eye-to-eye with the hardline government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, whom Trump has hailed as a friend and promised to back to the hilt. Yet there are tensions between Netanyahu and the Trump administration as well. Unlike past U.S. presidents, Trump has refused to condemn Israeli settlements in the West Bank, and he appointed a hardliner as his ambassador to the country. Yet the administration seems to be reversing its promise to relocate the American embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, and this week a peculiar disagreement has broken out over the Western Wall, a contested site in Jerusalem.
As Trump made plans to visit the sacred site, diplomats in the country reportedly told the prime minister’s office he did not want Netanyahu there, and that the wall was located in the Palestinian-controlled West Bank. “Israel is convinced that this statement is contrary to the position of President Trump, as expressed in his firm opposition to the most recent U.N. Security Council Resolution,” Netanyahu’s office said in a statement. During a briefing on Tuesday, National-Security Adviser H.R. McMaster refused to comment on whether the administration believed the wall was in Israel or in the West Bank. In an afternoon press briefing, Press Secretary Sean Spicer said the Western Wall is “clearly in Jerusalem,” but also dodged the question.
Between the Western Wall, the embassy, and the classified disclosure, Trump and Netanyahu should have plenty to talk about during next week’s visit. That is, of course, if the Israelis are willing to tell him things he might repeat elsewhere.