Israeli intelligence officials did not mince words in describing the negative repercussions of President Donald Trump’s sharing secret information provided by Israel with the Russians. The Israelis’ “worst fears [were] confirmed,” an Israel intelligence source told BuzzFeed.
Here’s why revealing the details provided by Israel to the U.S. is so disturbing to Israelis.
1. Compromising Sources: The information provided by Trump to Russia’s foreign minister and its ambassador to Washington related to an ISIS plan to hide explosives on laptop computers taken onto to planes flying to America. How did Israel get this information? Probably by what is known as “humint” for human intelligence. In other words, agents on the ground and moles within ISIS. Knowing that such a human intelligence source exists will immediately burn the source and would likely put it in danger. Israel not only stands to lose a valuable source with inside knowledge on a terror group not far from its boarders, but will also face increased difficulty developing new similar sources.
2. Iran: Now that Russia has the information and can easily match it with other bits of intelligence it had collected to reveal the Israeli involvement, the Russians can pass this information on to their allies. And who are Russia’s allies? They include many countries less than friendly to Israel, and especially Iran. An Iranian back channel into highly sensitive information would be a dream come true for Tehran, and a realization of a nightmare for Israeli intelligence.
3. Intelligence cooperation with the U.S.: Israelis and Americans have always prided themselves for maintaining unprecedented intelligence sharing. America’s intelligence apparatus can offer Israel information any small country could only dream of, especially when it comes to spy-satellite imagery and to massive data collection operations. Israel brings to the table an impressive on-the-ground network and innovative technology. And this relationship, Israelis and Americans alike confirm, has been largely insulated from any political disagreements leaders of both countries may have had. Intelligence sharing grew deeper and stronger during the tense Obama-Netanyahu years. Now, there is a real threat that Israelis will lose trust in America and that this unique relationship will become limited in its scope.
4. Israel has more to lose: While Israel is clearly a valuable asset to American intelligence, it is still the junior partner in this relationship. Inserting suspicion and new limitations into the two countries’ agreement will harm Israel more than America, especially since Israel does not have the ability to replace the U.S. with any other intelligence power of its magnitude. The United States rewarded Israel’s valuable information with access to other American intelligence programs. If Israel begins to think twice before passing on its most sensitive information, American intelligence will do the same, stripping Israel’s security from some of its most valuable tools.
5. An embarrassment for Netanyahu: Prime Minister Netanyahu has gone out of his way to praise Trump, to adhere to his requests and even to serve as his unofficial apologist. When Trump asked Israel to curb settlement building, Netanyahu was forthcoming. When Trump got in trouble for a belated response to anti-Semitism, Netanyahu was there to bail him out. And only this week, when the Trump administration made a scene over the Western Wall, Netanyahu was the first to say the officials’ claim that the place is not under Israeli sovereignty did not reflect the views of President Trump.
Now comes Netanyahu’s greatest challenge - can he stand up to Israel’s security establishment and defend Trump’s revealing of Israeli secrets? This is a tall order, even for a prime minister who has already demonstrated his ability to nimbly defend an unpredictable American president.
Nathan Guttman, staff writer, was the Forward’s Washington bureau chief. He joined the staff in 2006 after serving for five years as Washington correspondent for the Israeli dailies Haaretz and The Jerusalem Post. In Israel, he was the features editor for Ha’aretz and chief editor of Channel 1 TV evening news. He was born in Canada and grew up in Israel. He is a graduate of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.