Hagel dismisses allegations of Israeli espionage

US secretary of defense ‘not aware of the facts’ that would substantiate claims made in Newsweek report

Mitch Ginsburg is the former Times of Israel military correspondent.

US Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, left, with Israeli counterpart, Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon (photo credit: Ariel Hermony/ Ministry of Defense)
US Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, left, with Israeli counterpart, Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon (photo credit: Ariel Hermony/ Ministry of Defense)

US Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, in Tel Aviv as part of a regional tour, appeared to dismiss on Thursday a series of high-profile media reports regarding Israeli espionage in the United States.

“I have heard of that report,” Hagel said of the two-part Newsweek article, which claimed that Israel conducts “aggressive espionage” against US targets. “I’m not aware of the facts that would substantiate the report,” he added, according to Reuters.

Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon, for his part, joined an array of former and current Israeli officials in dismissing the reports as baseless. “As former head of Military Intelligence, I wasn’t allowed to spy in the United States whatsoever. And as defense minister, I don’t allow to spy in the United States whatsoever,” he said.

Maj. Gen. (res) Amos Yadlin, former Military Intelligence head and current director of the INSS think tank, called the Newsweek reports “malicious hearsay” on Channel 2 on Friday and added that “every prime minister [of Israel] since the [Jonathan] Pollard incident has very clearly instructed his intelligence establishment: Israel does not spy on the US.”

He called on US intelligence officials, former and current, to come out strongly against the allegations and to tell the American people about the benefits of Israeli-American security cooperation.

Hagel and Ya'alon at the Defense Ministry in Tel Aviv on Thursday (photo credit: Ariel Hermony/ Ministry of Defense)
Hagel and Ya’alon at the Defense Ministry in Tel Aviv, May 15, 2014 (photo credit: Ariel Hermony/ Ministry of Defense)

Ya’alon, who has had a rocky relationship with the US administration, referred to Hagel frequently as “Chuck” and thanked him profusely for “the steadfast US support for vital programs to Israel’s security such as the Iron Dome system.”

Ya’alon said he and Hagel would be discussing “a wide plethora of strategic and regional issues,” likely including the ongoing war in Syria, the Iranian nuclear talks, and the stalled peace process with the Palestinians.

Afterward, the two defense ministers left Tel Aviv for an Israel Air Force base Thursday to view a joint US-Israel military exercise, simulating a large scale missile attack against Israel.

Ya’alon said that the Jewish state and its US ally should be prepared to use “all means” to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapons capability.

“I believe that it should be in the first priority of each of us to deal with this threat by all means, in all fields,” he said.

Ya’alon’s comments came as the United States and other major powers pressed talks with Iran on a long-term agreement to allay international concerns about its nuclear ambitions.

Israel has strongly opposed the negotiations with its arch-enemy, and has said repeatedly that it is prepared to go it alone if necessary with preemptive military action against Iran’s nuclear facilities.

“I believe the United States and Israel share the same goal — not to allow a military nuclear Iran,” Ya’alon said. “We might have differences, even disputes regarding how to get it but we have the open channels, the secretary of defense and myself. The bottom line is that Israel should be ready to defend itself, by itself.”

Hagel said the negotiations between the powers and Iran were not open-ended — the parties are working to a July 20 target for an agreement.

He said Washington was continuing to cooperate closely with its Israeli ally on the Iran issue, even while the negotiations continued.

“Because we’re on a diplomatic track… does not preclude all of the other security and defense measures that we continue to pursue outside that diplomatic track, including this relationship with Israel,” he said.

AFP contributed to this report.

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