Tag Archives: Israel

Spying on Allies

According to a new report by the Wall Street Journal, the National Security Agency was listening in on the communications of Israeli leaders, including Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, during the Iranian nuclear program talks. It had been known that the United States was monitoring Netanyahu’s telephone calls, but the report contends that the surveillance was much broader than initially suspected, and included communications between Netanyahu and members of the US Congress.

The US government believed Netanyahu was actively trying to undermine the conclusion of any agreement between the United States and Iran. According to Netanyahu, the agreement, which was concluded in July, would undermine Israeli national security by creating a pathway for Iran to expand its nuclear weapons program. The United States and its allies—the United Kingdom, France, Russia, China, Germany, and the European Union—contended that the agreement would slow Iran’s nuclear progress and included measures to re-impose sanctions if Iran was found to be in violation of the agreement.

In response to the Wall Street Journal report, Israel’s Minister of Intelligence, Yisrael Katz, issued a statement claiming that “Israel does not spy on the US., and we expect that our great friend the US will treat us in similar fashion.” Members of Congress have not yet response to the report., suggesting they may have been aware of the NSA’s activities.

What do you think? Was the United States justified in listening in on the communications of Israeli leaders during the Iranian nuclear negotiations? Under what conditions would such action be justified? When would it not be justified? Why?

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Espionage Among Friends

Jonathan Pollard was paroled yesterday, after serving more than 30 years of a life sentence in a federal prison. While serving as a US Navy analyst, Pollard apparently gave suitcases of classified information to Israel. According to the Central Intelligence Agency, Pollard’s actions “put at risk important US intelligence and foreign policy interests”

Pollard’s conviction had long been a sticking point in US-Israeli relations, with Israel regularly pushing for his release. But his release had been steadfastly opposed by intelligence and defense officials, citing the volume of information sold to Israel and concerns that releasing him would send the wrong message to others who may be inclined to engage in similar actions. Interestingly, less than a week after a visit by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Pollard was paroled. As a condition of his parole, Pollard is prohibited from leaving the United States for at least five years, preventing him from leaving the country for Israel, which granted him citizenship in 1995.

What do you think? Does Pollard’s release signal an improving relationship between the United States and Israel? Do you think Pollard should have been paroled? Why?

War Crimes in the Middle East

A report issued by the United Nations’ Human Rights Council earlier this week concluded that both the Israeli government and Palestinian militants committed war crimes during the summer 2014 conflict that resulted in more than 2,200 Palestinian deaths—the majority of whom were civilians—and 73 Israeli deaths.

Both sides were quick to condemn the report. In a press conference, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu asserted that Israel remains “committed to the rule of law” and noted that the country has repeatedly been forced to defend itself against “Palestinian war crimes.” In Gaza, Hamas authorities complained that the report stablished “a false equality between victims and their killers.”

The report could further efforts by the Palestinian Authority to launch a formal war crimes complaint against Israel with the International Criminal Court, a strategy Palestinian officials already appear to be pursing.

What do you think? Given the report’s findings, does the international community have an obligation to help resolve the longstanding conflict and prevent further civilian casualties? What if anything might be done to de-escalate tensions between Israel and Palestine? And is the Palestinian strategy of pursuing recourse through the International Criminal Court the correct one? Why?

Implications of the Israeli Elections

Benjamin Netanyahu’s ruling Likud Party defined pre-election polls and won a resounding (and surprising) victory in yesterday’s election, capturing 23.2 percent of the popular vote (and 30 seats), finishing well ahead of Isaac Herzog’s Zionist Union, which garnered 18.7 percent of the vote (and 24 seats).

Polling data had suggested that Netanyahu’s party would lose control of the Knesset (parliament), causing Netanyahu to tack to the right in recent days. In campaign interviews over the past few days, Netanyahu declared his strong opposition to the establishment of a Palestinian state, effectively declaring there would be no two-state solution during his tenure. He also promised to expand Jewish settlements in east Jerusalem, the portion of the city viewed by Palestinians as the future capital of their country. Earlier, Netanyahu had also declared a hardline stance against Iran. On all three issues, Netanyahu broke with the United States. The results are also likely to catalyze pressure on the Palestinian Authority to move forward with a human rights lawsuit against Israel at the International Criminal Court.

What do you think? How will Netanyahu’s reelection affect Israeli-Palestinian negotiations and negotiations over the Iranian nuclear program?

Is Netanyahu’s Visit “Destructive”?

US National Security Advisor Susan Rice yesterday described an upcoming visit by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as “destructive.” Rice asserted that both the decision by Speaker of the House John Boehner to extend an invitation to Netanyahu, and Netanyahu’s decision to visit the United States less than two weeks ahead of his own reelection, as injected a degree of partisanship into the question that complicates ongoing negotiations between the United States and Iran and is “destructive of the fabric of the relationship” between the United States and Israel.

What do you think? Will Netanyahu’s visit undermine US-Israeli relations? Will it affect ongoing negotiations between Iran and the United States? Why?

Stepping on Toes? Congress and US Foreign Policy Making

In a move described by observers as an unprecedented breach of protocol, Speaker of the House John Boehner announced today he had invited Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to address Congress on the issue of Iran without consulting with the White House. The invitation highlights a sharp division between the Congress and the White House over how best to address Iran’s nuclear ambitions. In defense of his move, Speaker Boehner said he is “not poking [the President] in the eye,” but seeking to “address a serious threat in the world [that] the President is papering over.”

Foreign policy has traditionally been the domain of the executive branch, led by the White House and the State Department.

What do you think? Was Speaker Boehner right to invite Prime Minister Netanyahu to address Congress without consulting with the White House? How might the obvious divisions between the White House and the Congress on the question affect the US negotiating position with Iran?

Palestine, Israel, and the International Criminal Court

Palestine-ICCAfter failing to secure full membership in the United Nations earlier this month, the Palestinian government received approval from the UN Secretary General to join the International Criminal Court. Palestinian membership in the ICC opens the possibility of Palestine filing suit against Israel in the ICC, though such a move would likely provoke a sharp response from both Israel and the United States. Both countries opposed both full UN membership and membership in the ICC for Palestine.

Recent moves by the Palestinian Authority signal a growing frustration with US-led negotiations, which have failed to produce significant results to date. The Palestinian government is seeking to pressure the US and Israel by using other international forums. For their part, both the United States and Israel have threatened to withhold funding for Palestine if it continues with such efforts, maintaining that a negotiated settlement is the only foundation for a lasting peace in the Middle East.

What do you think? Is Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’ strategy of shifting the locus of attention from US-led negotiations to international forums like the United Nations and the ICC likely to increase pressure on Israel to move the peace process forward? How will the US and Israel likely respond? And will their responses be effective?