Israel’s foreign minister on Tuesday denied a Wall Street Journal report alleging that Israel had spied on the U.S. to learn details about its nuclear talks with Iran.
Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman told Israel’s Army Radio the report was "not correct, not accurate."
Liberman insisted that Israel does not spy on the U.S. as a matter of policy, and that with other parties involved in the talks — most notably Iran — Israeli intelligence could have gleaned details of the negotiations through other avenues.
“We don’t spy on the United States. There are enough players involved [in the negotiations], such as Iranian players,” Liberman said.
“All of the intelligence we got was from another side, not from the U.S.,” the foreign minister said. “We came to a decision years ago not to spy on the U.S. We haven’t come across anybody who violated that directive in recent decades.”
Liberman’s comments echoed those of a senior official in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office who told the Journal the allegations "are utterly false. The state of Israel does not conduct espionage against the United States or Israel’s other allies. The false allegations are clearly intended to undermine the strong ties between the United States and Israel and the security and intelligence relationship we share.”
The Wall Street Journal reported Monday night that Israel had spied on the nuclear talks, upsetting the White House. The Obama administration, according to the report, asserted that Israel tried to use the information to lobby Congress against the emerging nuclear deal.
Quoting current and former U.S. officials, the Journal reported that senior White House officials learned of the alleged spying last year shortly after the U.S. and Western allies began negotiations with Iran.
The Journal reported that information on the closed-door talks was collected through eavesdropping, informants and diplomatic contacts in Europe.
The Obama administration was particularly upset because it believed Israel had shared the information with members of Congress in an effort to undermine the emerging nuclear deal, which must be agreed upon by March 31.
According to the Journal, the alleged spying goes both ways, with the U.S. also spying on Israel:
The White House discovered the operation, in fact, when U.S. intelligence agencies spying on Israel intercepted communications among Israeli officials that carried details the U.S. believed could have come only from access to the confidential talks, officials briefed on the matter said.
The Journal quoted Israeli officials who said they got their information through surveillance of Iranian leaders receiving the latest U.S. and European offers, not by spying on U.S. officials.
Unnamed Israeli and U.S. officials told the Journal that the Europeans have been more forthcoming with Israel about the content of the negotiations.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has called the emerging agreement a “bad deal,” and that any capitulation to Iran could threaten Israel’s existence. Iranian leaders have repeatedly said they aim to annihilate Israel.
The Wall Street Journal reported that Obama did not tell Netanyahu about secret back-channel talks with Iran until 2013, a year after they began.
Israeli officials said they knew about the talks even before Obama told Netanyahu and were upset at having been excluded, the Journal reported.