Israel spied on closed-door nuclear talks between the U.S. and Iran, the Wall Street Journal reported Tuesday, as part of a broader effort by Israeli Prime Minster Benjamin Netanyahu to scuttle the deal before it happened. Israel swiftly denied the report.
The country eavesdropped and acquired confidential information from briefings, informants, and diplomatic officials, White House officials told the Journal, who added that while the snooping was tolerated the sharing of confidential information with lawmakers was what most infuriated the White House. “It is one thing for the U.S. and Israel to spy on each other. It is another thing for Israel to steal U.S. secrets and play them back to U.S. legislators to undermine U.S. diplomacy,” a senior U.S. official briefed on the matter told the Journal.
A senior official in the Prime Minister of Israel's office pushed back on the report Tuesday morning. "These 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 official told NBC News.
The report has fueled the growing rift between the White House and Netanyahu, who heavily lobbied Republicans to try and scuttle the nuclear deal the White House is negotiating with Iran. Netanyahu snubbed the president when he accepted House Speaker John Boehner's invitation to speak to Congress without telling the White House. Prior to his speech, Netanyahu warned of having knowledge of the deal that would prove harmful to the State of Israel.
While both sides will deny the report, it’s well known the nations spy on each other. The White House reportedly discovered Israel's snooping while spying on them, the Journal noted, though it's been largely suspected for weeks and White House administration officials voiced concern that Israel was leaking selective details of the talks to build opposition -- deliberately not including details of Iran complying with interim requirements during negotiations -- and stopped briefing them on the talks directly.
In Israel's heavy lobbying, Netanyahu and U.S. Ambassador Ron Dermer spoke confidently about what they said were the terms of the deal, despite constant insistence from the U.S. deal that no deal had been struck.