US President Donald Trump’s reported sharing of a highly classified Israeli tip with Russia led to incredibly tense meetings between Israeli and American intelligence officials, Foreign Policy Magazine reported Friday.
The Israelis reportedly shouted at their US counterparts, demanding an explanation for Trump’s actions, according to the magazine, which quoted a US defense official.
“To them, it’s horrifying,” the official said. “Their first question was: ‘What is going on? What is this?’”
Meeting Russia’s foreign minister and ambassador to Washington in the Oval Office on May 10, Trump shared intelligence about an Islamic State threat involving laptops carried on airplanes, according to a senior US official.
ABC News reported that the information came specifically from a spy embedded in the terrorist group on behalf of Israel, and that Trump’s reported leak had placed the person’s life at risk.
The Israeli government has not officially confirmed that is the source of the reportedly leaked intelligence.
Though Washington and Jerusalem have publicly brushed aside reports of the incident, behind the scenes top Israeli defense officials are said to be angry and concerned by the president’s actions.
Beyond the possible danger to the source, FP reported that Israelis feared they had lost any further access to the spy’s intel.
Though the magazine noted that IS is not currently a major concern for the Jewish state, the spy was also reportedly a major asset in gaining information on the actions of Iran in Syria — through its Revolutionary Guards Corps and Lebanese proxy Hezbollah, both of which have been fighting for Syrian President Bashar Assad.
Israeli is increasingly worried of Iran entrenching itself along its northern border through its proxy groups and agents.
“To the Israelis, ISIS is not that big of a concern,” the defense official said, using another name for IS. “We have a partner that has done us a favor. They went out of their way to support us in a campaign against ISIS, that they have no real skin in.”
US and Israeli officials have tried to allay concerns. National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster told reporters that Trump’s disclosure was “wholly appropriate.” Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman tweeted that the allies will continue to have a “deep, meaningful and unprecedented” security relationship.
But some of the people who’ve spent years safeguarding that relationship say there will be consequences.
Intelligence professionals in the United States are “deeply concerned, frustrated and increasingly disillusioned,” one former intelligence official said. Another former intelligence official said the concern is that Israel will start “fuzzing” intelligence it shares with the US, avoiding specifics or detailing how information is obtained. Both individuals spoke on condition of anonymity because they weren’t authorized to relay the sentiments they gleaned from conversations with current intelligence officials.
Shabtai Shavit, who led the Mossad in the 1990s, said that were he in charge of the intelligence organization today, he would not be inclined to share more information with his American counterparts. “If tomorrow I were asked to pass information to the CIA, I would do everything I could to not pass it to them. Or I would first protect myself and only then give it, and what I’d give would be totally neutered,” Shavit told The Times of Israel on Wednesday. “If some smart guy decides that he’s allowed to leak information, then your partners in cooperation will be fewer or just won’t be at all,” he warned.
Danny Yatom, another ex-Mossad boss, told an Israeli radio station that if reports were accurate, Trump likely caused “heavy damage” to Israeli and American security.
Both nations gain much from the exchange of information.
Israel, which lives in close proximity to Arab enemies and Iran, has human spies in parts of the volatile Middle East where the US doesn’t. It also has robust cyber capabilities, enabling it to sometimes get word of plots that the United States doesn’t know about.
Washington, in turn, provides Israel with financial and military assistance, and intelligence that US agencies collect on threats far beyond Israel’s immediate borders.
No one thinks the incident will derail the long-standing alliance. But subtle changes and a more careful approach to sharing may be inevitable.
But it’s not a threat some Israeli officials didn’t foresee. Even before Trump took office, Jacobs said, Israeli professionals expressed concern that his loose lips would intentionally or inadvertently lead to Israeli intelligence being shared with Russia. That, in turn, might mean the intelligence ends up with Iran, a sworn enemy of Israel.
AP contributed to this report.