Israel on Sunday described the reported U.S. wiretapping of the country’s premier as “unacceptable” amid renewed calls for the release of Jewish spy Jonathan Pollard, currently serving a life sentence in an American prison.
“We have of late exceptional intelligence relations with the U.S. and the British, it’s almost one intelligence community,” Israeli Intelligence Minister Yuval Steinitz said.
“Under such conditions I think it is unacceptable,” Mr. Steinitz said while reacting to a New York Times report that secret documents revealed by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden showed that U.S. and British intelligence had tapped the communications of then Israeli premier Ehud Olmert and Defence Minister Ehud Barak during 2008-11.
“We do not spy on the president of the U.S. or the White House. The rules have been made clear. We have made certain commitments on the matter and we honour them,” said Mr. Steinitz.
Lawmaker Nachman Shai, who served as a diplomat in Israel’s Washington embassy in the early 1980s, said Israel and the U.S. had agreed not to spy on one another in the wake of the 1985 arrest in Washington of Jonathan Pollard, a former U.S. Navy analyst who gave Israel thousands of secret documents about espionage in the Arab world.
Mr. Pollard was sentenced to life imprisonment 29 years ago, and the report that the U.S. spied on Israel has led to renewed calls for his release.
“The secret is out. The U.S. is systematically spying on the defence and diplomatic leadership here in Israel. Is this how friends treat each other? Pollard was arrested for much less,” Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz said.
Another MP from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party, Tzahi Hanegbi, said, “If it (allegation of U.S. spying on Israel) is true, Pollard’s cell door should be opened and he should be allowed to go home before this day is out.”
Mr. Netanyahu, however, tried to calm his colleagues by saying that Israel should not refer to one specific incident to deal with Mr. Pollard’s release.
“We do not need a special incident to talk about the release of Jonathan Pollard. We are dealing with this with every U.S. president, including with President (Barack) Obama, all the time, including now,” the premier said.
“This (Pollard’s release) is not conditional nor connected to the recent event, even though we gave our opinion on these matters.”
Mr. Obama granted clemency to 21 criminals over the weekend as part of a Christmas tradition. Mr. Pollard was not included among them despite a request from his close ally and former cabinet member Bill Richardson.
Former premier Mr. Olmert’s office played down the spying allegations, saying, “The chance that security or intelligence-related damage was done by this interception is zero. It should be emphasised that relations between Israel and the U.S. in those years were excellent, and the intelligence cooperation was comprehensive, detailed, and as close as never before,” a statement from Mr. Olmert’s office said.