Newsweek strikes again: A new report by Newsweek claims Israeli military's intelligence unit 8200 eavesdropped on calls conducted by then US president Bill Clinton during a round of peace talks conducted between Israel and Syria, and the Camp David talks with the Palestinians in 2000.
The report is based on a forthcoming book written by an Israeli expat and political scientist Ahron Bregman, and sites verbatim transcripts of the allegedly tapped phone calls given to him by unnamed “private sources”.
The book also offers quotes from a number of secret conversations conducted between Clinton and then Israeli-prime minister Ehud Barak.
The book, which will be published next week in the UK, also purports to present a letter between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who also held the position before Barak, as receiving a secret letter from Clinton’s Secretary of State Madeleine Albright which offered a written commitment by the US that it would confer with Israel before making peace offers to the Palestinians.
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“Recognizing the desirability of avoiding putting forward proposals that Israel would consider unsatisfactory,” Albright reportedly wrote to Netanyahu on November 24, 1998, the report claimed, adding that she wrote that “the US will conduct a thorough consultation process with Israel in advance with respect to any ideas the US may wish to offer to the parties for their consideration. This would be particularly true with respect to security issues or territorial issues related to security…”.
Yedioth Aharonoth's senior military and intelligence correspondence, Ronen Bergman, who frequently writes for Ynet, told Newsweek that the wiretapped conversations “dovetail with what is known about the negotiations under way at the time between Israel and Syria under American mediation.”
However, Bergman is not sure it was really Israel doing the eavesdropping: “Was it Israel that listened in to these conversations? This is a tough question to answer. There's no doubt that Israel was interested in eavesdropping on (Hafez) Assad or any other Syrian president, but did its surveillance include his conversations with the president of the United States? Was Ehud Barak running spies in Washington?," despite the alleged transcripts attained by Bregman, Bergman thinks not.
Despite claims by Newsweek and NSA related reports that Israel employs aggressive spying tactics against even its closest of allies, “To the best of my knowledge,” Bergman told Newsweek, “after the Pollard affair, Israel does not spy on the United States or against American targets.
"On the other hand, the fact that Bregman managed to get a hold of wiretap transcripts, the holy grail of intelligence, whether they were obtained by Israel or the United States or any other intelligence power, proves that Edward Snowden is not alone.”
When asked how he attained the material, the Israeli expat refused to devolve his source, but said "I think your assumption should be that if a reputable publisher such as Penguin decides to go along with that, then they probably checked the matter with me and approved," he reportedly told Newsweek via an email from London.
Syrian peace talks
The Israeli expat, who left the country after refusing to serve in the military because of the ongoing occupation of the West Bank, said that there is “No doubt that tapping the telephones of Clinton and of the Syrians negotiating with Israelis in the US… gave Israel a huge advantage, allowing them to be ahead of the game in peace negotiations and know what to expect in the actual talks and maneuver accordingly,” he told Newsweek,
The report goes on to detail how then-prime minister Barak "played with Clinton's credibility" by disingenuously claiming Israel was willing to withdraw to the pre-war Golan Highest borders only later to demand the border deny Syrians access to the Sea of Galilee, a move which coupled with Syrian anger at the Israelis derailed talks.
The report also cites Barak's anger at learning of Clinton's attempt to get the Saudi royal house to act as intermediates between the sides, Newsweek reported.
Regarding peace talks with the Palestinians, negotiations had all but fallen apart when the two sides reached the US for talks at Camp David in July 2000.
According the report, Barak had the upper hand and was well-armed when Clinton suggested returning to the drawing board.
“Reports from his spies in Washington had reached him just before he left for Camp David,” Newsweek reports Bregman writes of Barak, “giving him enough time to make up his mind about the US approach: He was not in favor” of making a peace deal.