Last night before the biggest story yet of Trump’s dysfunctional administration hit (the James Comey memo re the president’s possible obstruction of justice), the big news of the day was that a highly classified intelligence secret Trump had divulged to the Russian Foreign Minister a week before at the White House had been provided to the United States by Israeli intelligence. That secret was apparently ISIS’s plans to get laptop-bombs on airplanes. Or to quote the articles: “details” of those ISIS plans.
Leaving aside the questions that should strike any reasonable citizen — Why is the U.S. fighting wars in the Middle East? Isn’t this “secret” a bit obvious? (gee, laptops; who would have thought)– the story is roiling the chambers of state-and-spycraft in Washington and Israel.
President Donald Trump’s decision to disclose highly classified information to Russia, which Israel reportedly provided to Washington, has put the intelligence services “in crisis,” according to a former senior Israeli intelligence official and recruiter of assets for Israel’s Shin Bet security service.
Haaretz is also wringing its hands over Trump’s threat to Israeli intelligence gathering. Anshel Pfeffer says Trump’s disclosure threatens “an intimate intelligence relationship”. Some more hoopla about the vaunted Israeli intelligence assets:
For lack of divulgeable classified details, the value of intelligence Mossad and the IDF’s intelligence branch pass on to their American counterparts can only be described using superlatives. “We literally give them the crown jewels,” said one senior Israeli intelligence officer who was intimately involved in the relationship with the Obama administration.
Pfeffer goes very close to divulging the undivulgeable when he tells us about those laptop bombs:
According to the reports in American media, confirmed largely by Trump’s tweets and his spokesman Sean Spicer, the intelligence Trump shared with the Russian foreign minister concerned plans by ISIS to smuggle explosives aboard a civil airliner, disguised as a computer laptop.
The Washington Post’s report on the not-to-be-divulged secret contained these (typically not very specific) quotes attributed to Trump:
Trump seemed to be boasting about his inside knowledge of the looming threat. “I get great intel. I have people brief me on great intel every day.”
Sure sounds like the crown jewels! Officially, of course, the Israelis are saying that everything is hunkydory. Reuters:
Israeli officials have… been quick to say counter-terrorism coordination with the United States is strong. On Tuesday, Trump called Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to discuss his visit to Israel next week, but the two did not discuss the intelligence leak during their 20-minute conversation, the prime minister’s office said.
“The security relationship between Israel & our greatest ally the United States is deep, significant & unprecedented in volume,” Defence Minister Avigdor Lieberman said on Twitter, remarks that were echoed by the intelligence minister.
Ron Dermer, Israel’s ambassador to Washington, issued a similar statement, saying: “Israel has full confidence in our intelligence-sharing relationship with the United States and looks forward to deepening that relationship in the years ahead under President Trump.”
But privately, oh no no no. Here is Gershom Gorenberg, liberal Zionist, expressing horror as only a true Middle Easterner can:
— Gershom Gorenberg (@GershomG) May 17, 2017
While David Cohen, the former under-secretary for terrorism in Treasury (who was backed by Alan Dershowitz) writes at the New York Times that Trump has tarnished the ideal of a just and true America that beckons to would-be spies to betray their countries all around the world. And you thought it was good old American greenbacks that got them to turn. No:
Tarnishing the idea that America stands for something uniquely good makes it harder for the C.I.A. to recruit spies. The best arrow in the C.I.A.’s quiver — the arrow that has led to countless high-quality recruits signing up over the years — will not be nearly as sharp.
No one can say how many potential spies will decide that working for America is not worth the risk. But the administration’s rejection of the American idea will surely mean that some will say no.
Shorter Cohen (per Donald Johnson): “We are shocked, shocked I tell you, to see the US under Trump supporting autocrats and downplaying human rights. And speaking of American values, who better than the CIA to talk about them.”
Better yet, here is a famous New Yorker cartoon on a related “Industrial Crisis,” from 1928 by Gluyas Williams:
Speaking of Trump the disrupter, Israelis and their US supporters are also expressing apprehension about the Jerusalem statements coming out of the administration in advance of the president’s trip. HR McMaster equivocated on the Western Wall here. Here’s an Orthodox Union statement:
“We appreciate that President Donald Trump will make a historic trip to Israel next week and will be the first sitting president to visit and pray at Judaism’s holiest site – the Western Wall of the Temple Mount.
However, we are dismayed that just days before the trip, the White House’s National Security Adviser declined to state at the press podium that the Western Wall is part of Israel.
The questions posed to NSA Gen. McMaster today were prompted by press reports yesterday that U.S. officials (working in Israel to prepare the President’s trip) stated the Western Wall is “not part of [Israel’s] territory, it is the West Bank.” A senior administration official subsequently issued a statement that “the comments about the Western Wall were not authorized communication and they do not represent the position of the United States and certainly not of the president.”
We were relieved by this clarification. But it is all the more troubling today that Gen. McMaster did not affirm it when asked at today’s on-the-record briefing.
The Western Wall is indeed the holiest site that Jews can visit today for prayer and reflection as it is the only accessible remnant of the Holy Temple that once stood in Jerusalem. For centuries, Jews across the globe turned toward Jerusalem and prayed to return. Those prayers were answered 50 years ago next week as Jerusalem was reunified by Israeli forces in the Six-Day War – and Jews across the globe will celebrate this anniversary.
Now, therefore, is a crucial time for highlighting the historic connection of the Jewish People to Jerusalem and to give no credence to those who deny it. We therefore ask President Donald Trump to explicitly affirm that the Western Wall was – and is now – by the grace of G-d under Israel’s sovereignty.
With God on our side. There couldn’t be a sounder basis for policy.