According to a new book about to hit the shelves in the UK, Israel eavesdropped on phone conversations between US president Bill Clinton and the late Syrian leader Hafez Assad during sensitive peace negotiations between Israel and Syria in 1999.
The allegations in the book, reported by Newsweek on Friday, are the latest in a series of reports regarding Israeli spying on US targets. The reports have been vehemently rejected by Israel and largely dismissed by American officials.
The new book, however, by British-Israeli political scientist Ahron Bregman, cites purported verbatim transcripts of the Clinton-Assad calls which he says he obtained through “private sources.”
Bregman writes in “Cursed Victory: A History of Israel and the Occupied Territories,” that Israel also listened in as Syria’s foreign minister called the elder Assad to report on private meetings with US officials. The author further claims that he received transcripts of confidential talks between Clinton and then-prime minister Ehud Barak, as well as a letter marked “SECRET” from Clinton’s secretary of state Madeleine Albright to Barak’s predecessor and current prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, in which the Americans promised to check with Israel first before offering any peace proposals to the Arabs.
“Recognizing the desirability of avoiding putting forward proposals that Israel would consider unsatisfactory,” Albright wrote to Netanyahu in November, 1998, “the US will conduct a thorough consultation process with Israel in advance with respect to any ideas the US may wish to offer to the parties for their consideration.
This would be particularly true,” Albright wrote, “with respect to security issues or territorial issues related to security…”
Bregman, a former artillery officer in the IDF, declined to discuss his sources with Newsweek. “I think your assumption should be that if a reputable publisher such as Penguin decides to go along with that, then they probably checked the matter with me and approved,” he wrote in an email from London, where he settled in 1988 after refusing to serve in the reserves in West Bank and Gaza.
In the book, Bregman refers to “Israeli agents” who intercepted the calls.
“I didn’t know at the time – and I’m not sure now – how the listening was made,” he told the magazine.
“No doubt that tapping the telephones of Clinton and of the Syrians negotiating with Israelis in the US, as I describe, gave Israel a huge advantage, allowing them to be ahead of the game in peace negotiations and know what to expect in the actual talks and maneuver accordingly,” he said.
According to the transcripts Bregman alleges to have obtained, Clinton reassured Assad that Barak was aware of an earlier promise made by Yitzhak Rabin to relinquish the Golan Heights, captured in the 1967 Six-Day War. But Clinton is said to have told Assad that Barak could not go public with the pledge for fear of a backlash in Israel.
“[Barak] believes you are a man of honor… I know he is not playing games…,” the former US president allegedly told Assad.
All US officials mentioned in Bregman’s book, as well as the Israeli Embassy in Washington, declined to comment on the Newsweek report.