The Slatest

Report: Israel Spied on U.S.-Iran Talks and Leaked Information to Congress

Ron Dermer (second from right), Israel’s ambassador to the U.S., and Sara Netanyahu (second from left), wife of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, attend the PM’s speech to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee in Washington, D.C., on March 2.

Jonathan Ernst/Reuters

“Senior White House officials” say Israel spied on U.S.-Iran negotiations and shared the information obtained with members of Congress, the Wall Street Journal reports:

The espionage didn’t upset the White House as much as Israel’s sharing of inside information with U.S. lawmakers and others to drain support from a high-stakes deal intended to limit Iran’s nuclear program, current and former officials said.

“It is one thing for the U.S. and Israel to spy on each other. It is another thing for Israel to steal U.S. secrets and play them back to U.S. legislators to undermine U.S. diplomacy,” said a senior U.S. official briefed on the matter.

The Obama administration’s negotiations with Iran—over a potential deal to reduce economic sanctions against that country in exchange for limitation of its nuclear program—have become a major issue in both Israeli and American politics. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was critical of the potential deal during his recent re-election campaign, while 47 Republican senators signed an open letter addressed to Iranian leaders warning that future American administrations might overturn executive-branch policies agreed to by the Obama White House. The Journal’s piece says that Ron Dermer, the Israeli ambassador to the United States, has been meeting with members of Congress in recent months to lobby against a U.S.-Iran agreement, and asserts that during these meetings Dermer has shared specific and classified information about potential deal terms that had not been previously disclosed to legislators by the Obama administration.

Israel denies that Dermer shared “confidential intelligence information,” and it does not seem from the Journal story that Israel is alleged to have obtained the information in question by spying directly on United States officials. Other countries are involved in the talks, and Israel may have obtained some information directly via those countries or via surveillance of “communications between U.S. officials and parties targeted by the Israelis, including Iran.”

Of note: The Journal says that Dermer’s lobbying efforts have generally been directed at Democrats because Israel already assumes the support of most Republicans.