Why Netanyahu Addressed Congress

Legal Insurrection blog explains with information gleaned from the Wall Street Journal in a story that is behind a paywall.

The Obama administration has vented its fury at Israel based on Benjamin Netanyahu’s speech to Congress, and pre-election statements.

None of those issues justified the complete fury coming from the administration. It just didn’t add up.

Now The Wall Street Journal reveals the back story — one in which the Israelis found out about secret negotiations and secret details concealed from Congress, and told Congress. Now the administration is promising long-term damage to Israel that will last beyond this administration.

It also becomes obvious that the meme that Netanyahu has been acting to help his reelection is wrong. There is a long history of Israel trying to stop a disastrous deal being negotiated in secret. Netanyahu’s opposition has been based on security concerns for years, not the recent election.

The Wall Street Journal’s article is titled Israel Spied on Iran Talks.

That title, however, is not really the story. The story is that Israel learned not only that Obama was hiding secret Iran nuclear negotiations from Israel, but also later found out details that Israel shared with Congress. The article is lengthy, and behind the paywall.

Here is the intro:

Soon after the U.S. and other major powers entered negotiations last year to curtail Iran’s nuclear program, senior White House officials learned Israel was spying on the closed-door talks….

In addition to eavesdropping, Israel acquired information from confidential U.S. briefings, informants and diplomatic contacts in Europe, the officials said.

The espionage didn’t upset the White House as much as Israel’s sharing of inside information with U.S. lawmakers and others to drain support from a high-stakes deal intended to limit Iran’s nuclear program, current and former officials said.

“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,” said a senior U.S. official briefed on the matter.

The U.S. and Israel, longtime allies who routinely swap information on security threats, sometimes operate behind the scenes like spy-versus-spy rivals. The White House has largely tolerated Israeli snooping on U.S. policy makers—a posture Israel takes when the tables are turned.

The White House discovered the operation, in fact, when U.S. intelligence agencies spying on Israel intercepted communications among Israeli officials that carried details the U.S. believed could have come only from access to the confidential talks, officials briefed on the matter said.

Israeli officials denied spying directly on U.S. negotiators and said they received their information through other means, including close surveillance of Iranian leaders receiving the latest U.S. and European offers. European officials, particularly the French, also have been more transparent with Israel about the closed-door discussions than the Americans, Israeli and U.S. officials said.

What really set off Obama was that Israel later found out details that Israel shared with Congress, that the Obama administration had not:

As secret talks with Iran progressed into 2013, U.S. intelligence agencies monitored Israel’s communications to see if the country knew of the negotiations. Mr. Obama didn’t tell Mr. Netanyahu until September 2013.

Israeli officials, who said they had already learned about the talks through their own channels, told their U.S. counterparts they were upset about being excluded. “ ‘Did the administration really believe we wouldn’t find out?’ ” Israeli officials said, according to a former U.S. official.

The episode cemented Mr. Netanyahu’s concern that Mr. Obama was bent on clinching a deal with Iran whether or not it served Israel’s best interests, Israeli officials said. Obama administration officials said the president was committed to preventing Iran from developing nuclear weapons.

Mr. Dermer started lobbying U.S. lawmakers just before the U.S. and other powers signed an interim agreement with Iran in November 2013. Mr. Netanyahu and Mr. Dermer went to Congress after seeing they had little influence on the White House.

Before the interim deal was made public, Mr. Dermer gave lawmakers Israel’s analysis: The U.S. offer would dramatically undermine economic sanctions on Iran, according to congressional officials who took part.

Israel apparently shared more information with Congress than the administration, though Israel denies sharing any information that was classified:

The information in the briefings, Israeli officials said, was widely known among the countries participating in the negotiations.

When asked in February during one briefing where Israel got its inside information, the Israeli officials said their sources included the French and British governments, as well as their own intelligence, according to people there.

“Ambassador Dermer never shared confidential intelligence information with members of Congress,” Mr. Sagui said. “His briefings did not include specific details from the negotiations, including the length of the agreement or the number of centrifuges Iran would be able to keep.”

Current and former U.S. officials confirmed that the number and type of centrifuges cited in the briefings were part of the discussions. But they said the briefings were misleading because Israeli officials didn’t disclose concessions asked of Iran. Those included giving up stockpiles of nuclear material, as well as modifying the advanced centrifuges to slow output, these officials said.

The administration didn’t brief lawmakers on the centrifuge numbers and other details at the time because the information was classified and the details were still in flux, current and former U.S. officials said.

Now it’s all making sense. The Israelis saw Obama acting deceptively, hiding negotiations that would affect Israel’s existence, and giving away the store to the Iranians.

Netanyahu saw no choice but to go to Congress both through the Israeli ambassador and the speech to Congress, knowing that it would harm Israel with the administration.

This was not something done for election purposes.

The feelings in the Obama administration have gone beyond bitter:

“People feel personally sold out,” a senior administration official said. “That’s where the Israelis really better be careful because a lot of these people will not only be around for this administration but possibly the next one as well.” …

“If you’re wondering whether something serious has shifted here, the answer is yes,” a senior U.S. official said. “These things leave scars.”

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