Israel reels after reports that Trump shared classified intelligence with Russia
Just days before President Donald Trump lands in the Middle East, a bizarre incident has deepened tensions with Israel. At a meeting with Soviet Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov last week, Trump admitted that he passed classified information to Lavrov about a planned Islamic State operation.
Trump later admitted that he had passed on intelligence but did not give details. Now both US and Israeli media are reporting that the intelligence concerned attacks planned by Islamic State, and that it came from Israel, with some reports saying that it could endanger the life of an Israeli intelligence asset.
Russian President Vladimir Putin said that Donald Trump had not passed Lavrov any secrets (despite Trump’s admission that he had done so) and said he was willing to prove it by handing over a transcript of the meeting between the two men.
Israeli intelligence experts said that it was possible that Israeli intelligence had infiltrated Islamic State.
“If we have really lost a human source over there, it’s a major loss and it will take years to regenerate another one,” Aviv Oreg, former head of the Al Qa’ida and global jihad desk in the army’s military intelligence department, who now runs a counter-terrorism consultancy, told the Reuters news agency.
In any case, Israeli intelligence figures called for Israel to limit any future intelligence it gives the US.
“We can’t hand over our crown jewels,” an unnamed intelligence source warned in an interview with Israel’s largest circulation daily Yediot Aharonot.
The intelligence fiasco is just the latest in a series of incidents surrounding the Trump visit. Trump phoned both Jordan’s King Abdullah and Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu Tuesday, but Israeli officials insisted they did not talk about the intelligence issue.
As details of President Trump’s schedule are released, it is only causing more confusion in Israel. Like every foreign leader who comes to Jerusalem, he will visit the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial. But according to his schedule, he will only spend 15 minutes there. He will go to the Western Wall, Judaism’s holiest site, but it is a “private visit” and he will not allow any Israeli officials to accompany him. He had planned to give a speech at Masada, an ancient fortress in the desert that is a symbol of Jewish steadfastness after the residents committed suicide rather than be captured by the Romans in the 1st century AD, but decided it would be too hot and changed the location to the Israel Museum in Jerusalem.
“There had been high expectations for this visit and now many here are confused,” Eytan Gilboa, a professor of political science at Bar Ilan University, told The Media Line. “Unlike President Obama, who passed on Israel during his initial trip in the White House, showing that he wanted to distance himself from Israel, Trump is including Israel. It’s a message that Israel is important and he wants to repair US-Israel relations which were uneasy during the Obama years.”
When Trump was elected, hardliners in Israel rejoiced, believing he would immediately fulfill his campaign promise to move the US Embassy to Jerusalem. But he soon backed away from that promise, and even urged Israel to “hold back” on settlement expansion in the West Bank.
Now several evangelical Christian organizations are stepping up the pressure on Trump to move the Embassy. Trump has said he wants to make a deal to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. That would most likely involve an Israeli withdrawal from most, if not all, of the West Bank and the possible uprooting of almost 400,000 Jewish settlers who live there.
“It’s not clear why Trump is really so eager to push for Israeli – Palestinian negotiations,” Gilboa said. “He is doing what Obama did – placing the conflict high on the agenda and saying that he wants a comprehensive deal within a year.”