You’d think that there would be widespread outrage over the story everyone’s talking about today, the Wall Street Journal scoop that the Obama administration spied on Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu during the Iran Deal negotiations so as to counter his efforts to sink it. The wiretaps reveal that Israeli officials were up to their necks in the US political process; they “coordinated talking points with Jewish-American groups against the deal; and asked undecided lawmakers what it would take to win their votes, according to current and former officials familiar with the intercepts.”
The president approved the wiretaps.
Privately, Mr. Obama maintained the monitoring of Mr. Netanyahu on the grounds that it served a “compelling national security purpose,” according to current and former U.S. officials.
That’s right; there’s a compelling national interest in stopping the Israel lobby.
Many have said that President Obama lacks spine? Well, it sure looks like the leak to reporters Adam Entous and Danny Yadron came from the administration, and it’s hard to believe that a leak of this magnitude was not approved by the president. Just when the Israel lobby thought that it was starting to get back to business as usual, the Obama administration has reminded them that something has fundamentally changed in the U.S.-Israel relationship. Not only did we beat the lobby and Israel on the Iran Deal, but: we’re exposing your tactics, and patriotic Americans are going to be very upset by what they see.
Remember that Obama in his highlight moment of the Iran Deal told Americans it would be an “abrogation of my constitutional duty” to defer to Israel’s interests on the Iran Deal. You’d think it would be a scandal that the Israeli PM was intriguing with Republicans — and surely some Democrats– in the way the WSJ has documented; but instead the official reaction is likely to be how outrageous it was for Obama and the NSA to be listening in on the supposed only democracy in the Middle East.
Some of the details from the article:
The U.S., pursuing a nuclear arms agreement with Iran at the time, captured communications between Mr. Netanyahu and his aides that inflamed mistrust between the two countries and planted a political minefield at home when Mr. Netanyahu later took his campaign against the deal to Capitol Hill.
The National Security Agency’s targeting of Israeli leaders and officials also swept up the contents of some of their private conversations with U.S. lawmakers and American-Jewish groups. That raised fears—an “Oh-s— moment,” one senior U.S. official said — that the executive branch would be accused of spying on Congress…
White House officials believed the intercepted information could be valuable to counter Mr. Netanyahu’s campaign…
Much of the article substantiates the allegations swirling at the time of the deal, that Netanyahu was getting inside information on the secret negotiations. The eavesdropping revealed to the White House:
How Mr. Netanyahu and his advisers had leaked details of the U.S.-Iran negotiations — learned through Israeli spying operations — to undermine the talks; coordinated talking points with Jewish-American groups against the deal; and asked undecided lawmakers what it would take to win their votes, according to current and former officials familiar with the intercepts.
The notorious Israeli ambassador Ron Dermer was caught on the tapes:
Mr. Dermer was described as coaching unnamed U.S. organizations — which officials could tell from the context were Jewish-American groups — on lines of argument to use with lawmakers, and Israeli officials were reported pressing lawmakers to oppose the deal…
Israel’s pitch to undecided lawmakers often included such questions as: “How can we get your vote? What’s it going to take?”
Again, no names of US legislators, but this article contains the explicit threat that Israel could expose individuals down the road. The practice is sure to anger Americans and drive an even deeper wedge into the Jewish community over the role of the lobby. Patriotic Jewish Americans are going to be embarrassed yet again by the extent to which Israel tries to subvert our government, using American Jewish friends to do so. And many will walk away from the lobby over this kind of business. The large wavering middle of pro-Israel forces is going to be set back. J Street made the right call on the Iran Deal (reluctantly, I’ve heard) but it will reap a dividend.
Notre Dame professor Michael Desch’s interpretation: “The lobby and Congress will no doubt try to spin it as more evidence of Obama’s anti-Israel animus. But the story constitutes powerful evidence of 1) divergence of US and Israeli interests on important issues like Iran and 2) close coordination of the lobby and Government of Israel in trying to influence US domestic politics.”
Scott Horton refers to the last big eavesdropping scandal, when then-congresswoman Jane Harman promised a suspected Israeli agent that she would attempt to stop a federal case against American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) staffers in exchange for that agent’s political influence in getting her a committee chair. Jeff Stein reported the story:
Rep. Jane Harman, the California Democrat with a longtime involvement in intelligence issues, was overheard on an NSA wiretap telling a suspected Israeli agent that she would lobby the Justice Department to reduce espionage-related charges against two officials of the American Israeli Public Affairs Committee, the most powerful pro-Israel organization in Washington.
Harman was recorded saying she would “waddle into” the AIPAC case “if you think it’ll make a difference,” according to two former senior national security officials familiar with the NSA transcript.
In exchange for Harman’s help, the sources said, the suspected Israeli agent pledged to help lobby Nancy Pelosi , D-Calif., then-House minority leader, to appoint Harman chair of the Intelligence Committee after the 2006 elections, which the Democrats were heavily favored to win.
The suspected Israeli agent was inferred (it was the opinion of Josh Marshall and Ron Kampeas) to be Haim Saban, the giant contributor to the Democratic Party. So a “suspected Israeli agent” is also a giant Democratic funder with influence over the Congress? We’re headed for a showdown between the lobby and the grassroots, inside the Democratic Party. And praise to the Obama administration, who we guess is fueling the controversy out of “compelling national” interest.
By James North & Philip Weiss