Israel pressured US into sharing intelligence on Hezbollah, leaked documents show

Israeli demands during 2006 war with Lebanon created tensions with US National Security Agency

Israel reportedly sought US intelligence to help it target Hezbollah fighters during the 2006 war with Lebanon. AFP
Israel reportedly sought US intelligence to help it target Hezbollah fighters during the 2006 war with Lebanon. AFP

Documents leaked by whistle-blower Edward Snowden and revealed by news website The Intercept show that Israel coerced the US National Security Agency (NSA) to share intelligence to help assassinate Hezbollah operatives during the 2006 war against the Iran-backed Lebanese group.

In a document published on an NSA internal news site called SIDtoday and provided by Mr Snowden, an unnamed official based in Tel Aviv details his relation with the agency’s Israeli counterpart – Israeli SIGINT National Unit (ISNU) – in 2006.

More than 1,100 Lebanese civilians and 120 Israel soldiers were killed in the 34-day war.

The Israeli security agency asked the NSA to hand over, among other things, “geolocational information” on Hezbollah operatives. The demand strained relations between the two intelligence services.

I had several late-night, sometimes tense, discussions with ISNU detailing NSA’s legal prohibition on providing information that could be used in targeted killings”, the official writes.

He recounts how the ISNU commander “sought assistance from NSA for an exemption to this legal policy”.

The commander argued that the refusal to disclose the information was contrary “not only to supporting Israel in its fight against Hizballah [sic] but overall, to support the US Global War on Terrorism”.

The pressure seems to have paid off with the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, which produces the US president’s daily security briefing, relenting. “In the end, a framework was decided upon by ODNI that defined the parameters and methods of what could and could not be shared with the Israelis," writes the NSA operative.

The Intercept also revealed an internal NSA presentation dated April 2007. A reference in that presentation to events that led up to the 2006 war mentions how

Israeli officials experienced “high anxiety” and relied heavily on the NSA for support.

Another slide details “Israeli expectations vs reality”: the Israelis thought the war would enable them to eradicate Hezbollah’s rocket capability from South Lebanon and enjoy popular “9/11-type” support, a reference to the World Trade Centre attack that bolstered the popularity of armed forces in the US.

In reality, Hezbollah was “well prepared and motivated” and enjoyed logistical support from Iran and Syria, while the Israeli army lacked co-ordination. Bombardments of Lebanese civilian neighbourhoods gave Israel a bad press.

As talk of war increases in the region once again, “the logistical, geopolitical, and legal contours of US intelligence-sharing with the Israelis takes on increasing import”, The Intercept said.

According to the website, the legality of intelligence-sharing between the United States and other countries remains opaque and not publicly available.

Its co-operation with Israel during the 2006 war is controversial considering the high number of Lebanese civilians killed. Human Rights Watch has accused Israel of violating the laws of war.

None of the Israeli experts The National reached out to would comment for this article.

Aram Nerguizian, senior adviser at the Carnegie Middle East Centre programme on civil-military relations in Arab states, told The National that he "would be surprised, however, if the US did not conduct some degree of structured intelligence sharing with any of its major Nato and non-Nato allies, especially in a time-sensitive or crisis situation”.

Though many more Lebanese were killed than Israelis during the war, Israel is considered to have lost as it did not destroy Hezbollah’s rocket capability.

Just last Friday, Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah boasted that his group had “precision missiles in Lebanon, and enough to be able to change the face of the region”.

If the US went to war with Iran, “all American forces and interests in the region will be annihilated, and Israel and Saudi Arabia will pay the price”, he threatened.

The 2006 war was triggered by the abduction of two Israeli soldiers by Hezbollah during a cross-border raid.

Analysts fear that a similar incident could occur again, sparking a regional, if not global, war.

“Like every year since 2006, the fear mainly centres upon unexpected triggers that could escalate into a wider conflict," said Mr Nerguizian.

“Today, tensions in the Gulf tied to Iran certainly complicate this pattern, as do instability in Israel's elections and government formation process, uncertainty tied to what the US may or may not propose regarding the Arab-Israeli peace process, and any number of regional wild cards to include Syria and Yemen," he said.

Predicting a war, however, remains impossible. “We just don’t know," he said.

Updated: June 4, 2019 12:32 PM


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