The accusations from the US over Israeli espionage, published Monday in The Wall Street Journal, are unfair and even a little ridiculous.
The American administration and the government official who leaked the information are well aware that Israel is capable of obtaining this information in a completely legitimate manner from those party to the negotiations with the Iranians, as well as through other legitimate means within the intelligence community. It is no secret that Israel has its ways of knowing what is happening in Iran and in the talks Iran and its representative abroad are conducting.
What is unacceptable for Israel should also be unacceptable for the US. The article specifically states that the United States intercepted Israeli transmissions and from there decided that Israel supposedly "spied" on the US. Is it acceptable for the Americans, who do not face direct security threats, to spy on a Middle Eastern ally? And can the ally, Israel, which does face a direct security threat from Iran, therefore not take a closer look at what the US is doing behind its back?
But beyond the question of fairness and morality, it is important to understand that the reports of alleged Israeli espionage are part of a campaign waged by the United States, with a clear political purpose. This is not just a political vendetta against Benjamin Netanyahu, but a calculated political move by the Obama administration that was planned long before the Israeli elections, in case Netanyahu won.
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Netanyahu is facing a media blitz against him being managed by the White House. His speech to Congress, the announcement there would be no Palestinian state during his tenure (that he has that he has since walked back), and his comments against Israeli Arabs, for which he apologized on Monday, all provide the administration with ammunition to discredit Netanyahu, and insult him as the US president was insulted when the prime minister defied him and went to speak in Washington.
Behind this media campaign, the administration is hiding deep concerns regarding two issues: the danger that Israel will torpedo the nuclear agreement with Iran and the fear that a narrow right-wing government in Israel will lead to an even larger and more violent conflict with the Palestinian Authority and Hamas in Gaza.
The US is worried that a defiant right-wing Israeli government will push it to veto all kinds of resolutions at the UN as well as those by American allies in Europe, and, even worse, spark a conflict with many American Jews. Senior Democratic Party officials have warned Obama not to allow Netanyahu to cause a rift with the Jews who will support the party in the next presidential elections in 2016.
So what is the Obama administration aiming to achieve through its diplomatic and media campaigns? Firstly, the Americans want to lower the flames of the steadily developing conflict between Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. To achieve this, the US administration wants to influence the composition of the next Israeli government.
In Washington they are saying that if possible, they will prevent the establishment of a narrow right-wing government, and if such a government is formed, ensure that the key ministerial posts are given to relative "moderates". Naftali Bennett in the Foreign Ministry, for example, would be a "nightmare" for the Americans.
In addition, the government is trying to influence the political platform of the next Israeli government. The administration wants it to be explicitly stated in the government's basic guidelines that Israel adheres to a two-state solution and will do everything possible to bring it to fruition now, rather than in the distant future.
Washington would also prefer to see a unity government in Israel, and is exerting pressure to achieve this end. The US government is also trying to pressure Netanyahu to end a freeze on the transfer of tax revenues that Israel collects on behalf of the Palestinian Authority.
This is what the US means when it says it is interested in deeds rather than words from Israel. Furthermore, the Obama administration is threatening to support a UN resolution against the settlements, with the aim of getting Israel to declare a construction freeze in settlement blocs that will not remain under Israeli rule in a final peace agreement.
The accusations of spying made against Israel are primarily designed to limit the ability of Republican lawmakers in Congress to act against the agreement with Iran. Any member of Congress, Republican or Democratic, who uses the information received from Israel to vote against the agreement with Iran, is actually guilty of a form of treason as he or she made use of material obtained through alleged espionage against the United States.
In the battle for hearts and minds, Obama is waging war on Netanyahu not only out of revenge, but also as a way of setting a strategic policy, before the Israeli government is formed and before it is too late.