A day after it was revealed that the US National Security Agency monitored the private conversations of some 35 world leaders, former head of the Mossad Danny Yatom said Friday that the US listens in on its ally Israel as well.
“I can tell you with certain knowledge that [America] has been listening in on its allies, including Israel,” Yatom said, and “not necessarily in [Benjamin] Netanyahu’s tenure” as prime minister.
“The US doesn’t really care about anyone [but itself] and the Americans are vehemently denying the incidents,” Yatom told the Israeli daily Maariv on Friday. ”It could very well be that these things [monitoring calls] are happening here [in Israel] too. When the Americans think they need to listen in on someone, they’ll do just that.”
Yatom explained that there are two issues around which the Americans are likely spying on Israel — negotiations with Palestinians and the Iranian nuclear program.
“It is important for them to know what Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu really thinks… They have interests here because they want to be able to contend with Israeli claims that arise when talking about these issues,” the ex-Mossad chief said.
Yatom also stressed that the US seeks to obtain information on Israel’s “real” position vis-a-vis-negotiations and what obstacles stand in the way of advancing peace talks.
He also criticized the US for misusing its power as a world leader.
“The Americans rightly see themselves as a superpower, but wrongly feel that they can do whatever they want, including the eavesdropping,” he said.
Yatom served from 1996-1998 as head of the Mossad. The Israeli intelligence agency is smarting from recent reports that Turkey deliberately exposed a ring of Israeli agents in Iran, and further reports that US did not sanction or protest to Turkey over this alleged betrayal. Yatom has been particularly outspoken over the matter.
Yatom’s statements came a day after the the British newspaper The Guardian said it had obtained a confidential memo suggesting the NSA was able to monitor 35 world leaders’ communications in 2006.
The memo said the NSA encouraged senior officials at the White House, Pentagon and other agencies to share their contacts so the spy agency could add foreign leaders’ phone numbers to its surveillance systems, the report said.
The report drew furious reactions in Germany, Spain — both of whom summoned the US ambassador in their countries for talks over the report — and France.
European Union leaders, meeting Friday at a summit in Brussels, vowed to maintain a strong trans-Atlantic partnership despite their anger over allegations of widespread US spying on allies. Still, France and Germany are insisting the United States agree upon new surveillance rules with them this year to stop US eavesdropping on their leaders, innocent civilians and companies.
“We are seeking a basis for cooperation between our (intelligence) services, which we all need and from which we have all received a great deal of information … that is transparent, that is clear and is in keeping with the character of being partners,” German Chancellor Angela Merkel told reporters.
“The United States and Europe are partners, but this partnership must be built on trust and respect,” Merkel said early Friday. “That of course also includes the work of the respective intelligence services.”
Several European leaders noted Friday that the continent’s close political and commercial ties to the US must be protected as EU nations demand more assurances from the Obama administration.
“What is at stake is preserving our relations with the United States,” said French President Francois Hollande. “Trust has to be restored and reinforced.”
“The main thing is that we look to the future. The trans-Atlantic partnership was and is important,” said Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaite, whose nation holds the rotating presidency of the 28-country bloc.
Merkel complained to President Barack Obama on Wednesday after her government received information that her cellphone may have been monitored. Merkel and Hollande insisted that, beyond being fully briefed on what happened in the past, the European allies and Washington need to set up common rules for US surveillance that does not impede the fundamental rights of its allies.
Lazar Berman and AP contributed to this report.