First Published: 2017-05-17

Israel plays down Trump fallout over intelligence
Lieberman lauds defence ties between US, Jewish state in attempt to contain revelations that Trump shared sensitive Israeli intelligence with Russia.
Middle East Online

US president scheduled to visit Israel next week

JERUSALEM - Israel sought Wednesday to contain the fallout from Donald Trump's sharing of its intelligence with Russia after the move cast a further shadow over the US president's visit to the country next week.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Trump spoke by phone on Tuesday afternoon, a spokesman for the premier's office said, while stressing that they only discussed next week's trip during the 20-minute conversation.

But as the news emerged that Israel was the initial source of the intelligence provided to Russia, other Israeli officials spoke of their commitment to continuing security cooperation between their country and Washington.

Israeli Defence Minister Avigdor Lieberman said security ties would continue to be "unprecedented" in scope.

But he made no mention of Trump divulging intelligence to Russia that a US administration official said had originally come from Israel.

"The security relationship between Israel & our greatest ally the United States, is deep, significant & unprecedented in volume," Lieberman wrote on his Twitter account.

The relationship "is unprecedented in its contribution to our strength. This is how it has been & how it will continue to be," he added.

Intelligence Minister Yisrael Katz said he had "complete confidence in the American intelligence community.

"Intelligence cooperation between Israel and the United States regarding the threats posed by Iran and its proxies and ISIS (the Islamic State jihadist group) and its affiliates will continue and deepen."

Netanyahu's office had not responded to requests for comment on the intelligence sharing.

The US president is scheduled to visit Israel next week -- a trip that White House officials indicated would still go ahead.

- 'Chilling effect' -

The United States is Israel's most important ally, providing it with more than $3 billion in defence aid each year.

"Israel has full confidence in our intelligence-sharing relationship with the United States and looks forward to deepening that relationship in the years ahead under President Trump," said Israel's ambassador to the US, Ron Dermer.

The story grabbed the front pages of every major Israeli newspaper, with the exception of the pro-Netanyahu freesheet Israel Hayom.

The Washington Post reported late Monday that Trump revealed what it said was highly classified information on the Islamic State group during a meeting last week with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Moscow's Washington ambassador Sergey Kislyak.

It said that Trump told Lavrov about a specific Islamic State group bomb threat.

A US administration official confirmed on condition of anonymity that the original intelligence came from Israel, which was initially reported by the New York Times.

Trump took to Twitter to insist he had the "absolute right" to share "facts pertaining... to terrorism and airline flight safety" with Russia.

But the intelligence scandal could corrode trust among allies who shared classified information with the United States on the understanding that it will go no further.

"There's no question that the Israeli confidence has been shaken that some of the most sensitive information they share with us will be properly safeguarded," Dan Shapiro, US ambassador to Israel under Barack Obama and now a senior fellow at the Institute for National Security Studies think tank in Tel Aviv, said.

"The relationship's too important to both sides for that sharing to end, but I expect it to have a chilling effect in the short-term on what the Israelis will share until their confidence has been restored that it will be properly safeguarded."

- Jerusalem controversy -

Israel's top-selling newspaper Yediot Aharonot reported in January that Israeli intelligence officials had been told in a meeting with US colleagues that "Israeli intelligence information, methods of operation and sources" could leak from a Trump administration seen as having close ties to the Kremlin.

The paper said the fears were compounded by Russia's links with Israel's arch-foe Iran.

"The Israelis who attended the meeting said that the Americans advised them not to expose any sensitive sources to members of the Trump administration, lest that information reach Iranian hands, until it becomes clear that Trump does not have a compromised relationship with Russia," the paper reported at the time.

Controversy also erupted over US policy toward Israel earlier in the week over the White House's approach to the ultra-sensitive status of Jerusalem.

Debate over whether the United States should move its Israel embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem again flared, while a separate row over whether the city's Western Wall -- the holiest site where Jews can pray -- belongs to Israel also caused waves.

Both issues provoked criticism of Trump's White House in Israel as preparations intensified for his visit to the country and the Palestinian territories on May 22 and 23.

 

Regime strikes in Syria enclave despite ceasefire call

Russia pours cold water on UN bid to condemn Iran over missiles to Yemen

Egypt presidential race starts with Sisi likely to win

Christian leaders close Church of the Holy Sepulchre in tax dispute

Blatter supports Morocco bid for 2026 World Cup

Iraq condemns 15 Turkish women to death for belonging to IS

Thousands expected for radical Israeli rabbi's funeral

Syrian Kurd leader arrested in Prague

Philippine officials meet nationals in Kuwait amid labour row

Families of IS suspects in Iraq face 'collective punishment'

Iran's ex-intelligence minister slams handling of prison death

More strikes hit E. Ghouta as UN delays truce vote

Turkey says US embassy Jerusalem opening in May 'extremely worrying'

Lebanon says both suspects in Kuwait murder of Filipina maid held

38 dead in Mogadishu car bombings

Morocco police arrests prominent newspaper publisher

Syria regime continues to pound Ghouta as world stutters

UN rights commission wants S.Sudan war crimes charges

Iran grounds airline's ATR planes after crash

Turkey summons Dutch diplomat over Armenian 'genocide' vote

Turkey navy threatens to engage Italian drillship near Cyprus

Iran police shoving headscarf protester sparks social media storm

UN Security Council to vote Friday on Syria ceasefire

Dubai says Djibouti illegally seized African port

Dutch parliament recognises 1915 Armenian massacre as genocide

Heavily bombarded Eastern Ghouta awaits UN resolution

Russia says Syria rebels rejected offer to evacuate E. Ghouta

UN diplomats press for Syria ceasefire without Russia veto

Iranian minister’s presence at UN rights meeting angers critics

Iran warns it will leave nuke deal if banks cannot do business

Qatar to plant thousands of trees to ‘beautify’ World Cup venues

Pro-Kurdish party says Turkey lying about 'no civilian deaths' in Afrin

African migrants protest Israeli detention policy

Egypt sentences 21 to death for planning attacks

Israeli handball teams in Qatar spark furious outcry from locals

UN report highlights S.Sudan journalist treatment

Palestinian dies after being shot by Israeli soldiers

Gulf states urge Syria to end Ghouta violence

Wanted Bahraini militants die at sea en route to Iran

Saudi Arabia to boost entertainment in next decade

Iran's Ahmadinejad calls for immediate free elections

Merkel calls for end to 'massacre' in Syria

Iraq urges FIFA to lift ban on hosting internationals

Carnage of Ghouta's bombs breaking families

Blockaded Gaza Strip forced to pump sewage into sea