Land of the free, home of the spies
Hebrew media review

Land of the free, home of the spies

Reports of NSA spying on Israeli government officials provoke anger at Israel’s closest ally

Hello, NSA? Then Prime Minister Ehud Olmert speaking on the phone in March of 2007. Recent reports allege the NSA eavesdropped on Israeli government officials, including Olmert. (photo credit: Yossi Zamir/Flash 90)
Hello, NSA? Then Prime Minister Ehud Olmert speaking on the phone in March of 2007. Recent reports allege the NSA eavesdropped on Israeli government officials, including Olmert. (photo credit: Yossi Zamir/Flash 90)

If the Israeli media was like its American counterparts, it would have come up with a witty title for the latest NSA spying charge (preferably of the “-gate” variety). But the Israeli press is too shocked and wounded to be clever. Instead the papers wear their emotions on their front pages.

Yedioth Ahronoth’s front-page headline succinctly states, “Friend, spy.” Inside, the main article (which runs over three pages – quite long for the usually brief Yedioth) explains the alleged interception of the emails, text messages and phone calls of then-prime minister Ehud Olmert, defense minister Ehud Barak, and current prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Spies even rented an apartment overlooking Ehud Barak’s Tel Aviv apartment to surveil the former defense minister.

As part of its eight pages of coverage, Yedioth also includes an Israeli response. Through anonymous sources, the paper reports that Israel’s leadership assumed the Americans were spying on them and took steps to prevent the eavesdropping. Some only spoke to people over landlines (thinking they were safer), Ehud Barak avoided using email, and Ehud Olmert only spoke about state secrets in face-to-face conversations.

Over in Israel Hayom, columnist Dan Margalit weighs in on the controversy and makes the obvious comparison to Big Brother in George Orwell’s novel “1984.” Even if the US Congress makes new laws regarding the NSA, “it is doubtful whether such a step will stop the acts.” He argues that no one should be so naïve as to think the Americans will really stop the eavesdropping. “It’s doubtful whether Angela Merkel believes that Americans have stopped listening to her phone just because Barack Obama stammered some apologies.”

In his column titled, “What is the US allowed?” Haaretz’s Amos Harel also jumps in on the spying debate, but says that Israel isn’t that shocked by the revelations. Harel writes that many Israeli leaders assumed they were being spied on but accepted it as part of the game. He writes, “In a world largely run by the Americans (and in which Israel receives security assistance from the United States amounting to $3 billion annually, along with exceptional political support) the rules of the game are not the same for small players as big ones.”

Yedioth also asks the question, in light of the recent revelations, “How is Pollard still in jail?” Above the article is the heading “Accusation: America is two-faced.” The article itself doesn’t have a lot of meat, instead aiming to simply raise the Pollard issue again (there are no developments to report). An unmanned government source says, “If this Snowden affair shocks someone in the American defense establishment which holds Jonathan Pollard – that will be the benefit of the whole affair.” Pollard, an American who was arrested for spying for Israel in the 1980s, has spent 29 years in jail (or as the article puts it: 10,255 nights).

Iranian missiles, Israeli technology?

Maariv doesn’t seem so upset about the whole spying thing. Instead it reports that the Americans are actually irate at Israel for selling military equipment to China and possibly Iran. According to the report, the Americans are furious about the sale of sensitive military equipment to China, which then may have trickled down to Iran. At the heart of the issue is a cooling system used in advanced optic systems and missile technology. The Defense Ministry official who approved the export resigned and reportedly went to America to apologize for approving the export.

While Israel is sending sensitive military tech to China/Iran, the Iranians are “flexing their muscles,” according to Israel Hayom. The paper reports the Iranians are threatening to raise their uranium enrichment level from 20% to 60%, which is much closer to the 90% needed for nuclear fuel. The reason for the increased enrichment is that the Senate is considering harsher sanctions against Iran, even as Obama has pledged that he would veto any such move.

Haaretz reports the UK is warning Israel over a bill that would restrict funding for left-leaning NGOs that support the BDS movement. The British ambassador to Israel, Matthew Gould, warned the Prime Minister’s Office that the bill would cause “damage to Israel’s international standing.” Sources also report that he said the bill would put Israel in a category of countries, like Russia and Egypt, that recently passed similar bills that restrict NGOs.

Make new friends, ditch the old

In the opinion pages, Maariv’s David Shein writes that in the wake of the Arab spring, Israel should be trying to court Saudi Arabia as an ally. He writes that as the Arab world has drastically changed over the past three years, the time is ripe for Israel to approach Saudi Arabia. The Iranian issue would the basis of such an alliance, as “the Iranian threat worries the Saudis far more than the Palestinian issue.”

In Israel Hayom, Boaz Bismuth comments on an Iranian threat to up enrichment to 60%, laying the blame on Obama. He opines that Obama again doesn’t have a coherent method in his foreign policy: in Syria he invited Congress into the process, while with Iran he is shutting them out. The risks of Iran going nuclear are so great that it is important to understand why the Senate wants to add more sanctions if talks fail. But according to Bismuth, Obama doesn’t understand this. He concludes his piece with a jab at Obama, “President Obama is about to go on vacation in Hawaii. We wish him a pleasant holiday in Iran as well.”

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