Does Israel have its very own Edward Snowden?
It’s not an outlandish thought, given the rush of revelations about Israel’s secret spying effort over the years, most recently detailing extensive eavesdropping on President Clinton’s phone calls as he was trying to negotiate Middle East peace.
This and other insights into the top secret world of Israeli intelligence gathering come from Ahron Bregman, an unlikely character to play Glenn Greenwald to this imaginary Snowden. For his part, though, the Israeli-born, British-based historian insists that there is no one source for the trove of secret documents and transcripts he has managed to uncover for his new book, “Cursed Victory: A History of Israel and the Occupied Territories.”
“There is no Israeli Edward Snowden, I can assure you of that,” Bregman said. “But there are thousands of secret documents all over the place and out of control in Israel.” And there are plenty of people with access to these documents, people who wish to get out their side of the story by leaking the information.
Bregman never wanted to be defined by his sensational revelations, which were recently reported on by Newsweek. Instead, he had set out to write a critical book on Israel’s military success in the 1967 war and how it morphed into what he describes as a brutal occupation. But the scoops he weaved into his story have thus far overshadowed the narrative.
“I had hoped that the secrets I reveal would draw attention to the book, and the readers would then sit back and focus — on what I want them to focus on, namely on the occupation,” Bregman told the Forward in an email exchange. “Alas, so far nobody really cares much about what I say about the occupation, and all attention is firmly focused on the secrets I reveal.”
The nuggets provided in Bregman’s book shed light on the extent of Israel’s intelligence collection agencies’ work not only in times of war, but also as Israel engaged with its neighbors in peace talks. Among the most fascinating transcripts provided are those of conversations held by President Clinton with Israeli and Syrian leaders during his 1999 push for a peace agreement between the two countries. While not stating the source of the transcripts, Bregman provides a peek behind the curtains of the peace process, where leaders speak with each other frankly, and at times bluntly.
Much of the classified information relates to the Israeli-Syrian negotiating track, a short-lived attempt by the Israeli government, led by Ehud Barak, to reach a peace accord with Syria, then led by Hafez al-Assad, father of the current Syrian president. Clinton, in these talks, tries to push each side an inch closer, explaining Assad’s constraints to Barak, and Barak’s political limitations to Assad. In an intercepted September 2, 1999, phone conversation between Clinton and Assad, the American president tried to explain to his Syrian counterpart that Israel’s Barak is “afraid that if he mentions explicitly the 4 June line [the demarcated border between Israel and Syria before the Six Day War] the matter will be leaked.” If that happens, Clinton continued, Barak is “afraid that over a period of time, the public in Israel, before its vote, would only hear about 4 June without understanding whether there was a [Syrian] response” to Israel’s requests regarding security arrangements.