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How Israel is responding to reports Trump may have disclosed its sensitive intelligence to Russia

May 17, 2017 at 6:25 PM EDT
The New York Times reported Tuesday that Israel was the source of the classified intelligence about the Islamic State group that President Trump allegedly divulged to Russian diplomats. What are the ramifications for relations between the U.S. and Israel if the reports are confirmed? William Brangham speaks with Ronen Bergman of Yedioth Ahronoth about the scramble to contain possible damage.
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JOHN YANG: Now to the continuing fallout from the reports that President Trump shared highly classified intelligence with Russian diplomats that came from Israel.

William Brangham has that.

WILLIAM BRANGHAM: It was The New York Times that first reported yesterday that Israel was the source of that classified intelligence about ISIS that President Trump allegedly divulged to Russian diplomats.

If true, what are the ramifications, not only for the political relationship between the U.S. and Israel, but the close ties between the nations’ intelligence services?

For that, we turn to Ronen Bergman. He’s the intelligence correspondent for Israel’s largest daily newspaper, Yedioth Ahronoth. His forthcoming book is called “Rise and Kill First: The Secret History of Israel’s Targeted Assassinations.”

And he joins me now from Tel Aviv.

Ronen, may I first ask you, were you able to confirm that this intelligence that the president allegedly divulged was in fact from Israel, and, if so, what the reaction among Israeli intelligence has been?

RONEN BERGMAN, Yedioth Ahronoth: This is not yet finally confirmed.

There’s an investigation going on in Israel, trying to check which of the many, many items of intelligence that was delivered to the United States during the last three or four months regarding Syria, the activity of ISIS, Russia, Hezbollah, Iran, all closely guarded by Israel, which of these items were given by President Trump to Foreign Minister Lavrov.

As per the emotions or the reactions inside Israeli intelligence community, I would say they are ballistic. There are many people who are extremely upset. And one of them told me, this is sort of — this is a kick, violation in our sacred trust of each other, a blunt violation of everything the two countries agreed.

That person said that maybe the president has an authority, as he tweeted, to deliver U.S. intelligence, but he doesn’t have any authority to share Israeli intelligence and intelligence that was shared with these close circles of Americans, and just Americans, with anyone else.

WILLIAM BRANGHAM: President Trump spoke with Netanyahu yesterday. Certainly, this must have been part of that conversation.

RONEN BERGMAN: Well, I don’t know what was said or not said during that conversation.

However, Prime Minister Netanyahu ordered his staff not to react in any way to the recent scandals in the United States, including the leakage of information, Israeli intelligence to the Russians. And he’s — I think that Netanyahu is a bit intimidated of and afraid of President Trump.

And Mr. Netanyahu is doing whatever he can to play down this affair and not doing anything that could harm the president’s visit to Israel next week.

WILLIAM BRANGHAM: In your reporting, have you gotten any sense that Israeli intelligence is now trying to preserve or protect or somehow try to cover the intelligence that they have already shared with the United States because of this?

RONEN BERGMAN: Yes, indeed.

There is a risk assessment and damage assessment process going on as we speak. And the assumption, as in all intelligence scandals, is the worst-case scenario, meaning that much of the information is in jeopardy. Therefore, steps need to be taken to minimize the damage, save the lives sources and protect the SIGINT, the signal intelligence sources, as much as possible.

If, indeed, information that is in the hands of U.S. intelligence, U.S. National Security Council, U.S. president is not safe, that means that much of the secrets of Israel, some of them secrets that took years to — modus operandi, sources took years to develop, much, much resources, human lives, are at risk.

And one of the Israeli officials told me that he believes that there needs to be a reassessment of everything that was — that will be delivered to the U.S. from this point on, until it’s proven that the channel, this pipeline of information going from Israel to the United States, and vice versa, of course, is safe again and can be trusted 100 percent.

Nothing less than 100 percent is not secure.

WILLIAM BRANGHAM: All right, Ronen Bergman, thank you very, very much for your time.

RONEN BERGMAN: Thank you. Have a good day.

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