The U.S. and British governments have been spying on Israeli Air Force operations since 1998, according to documents that were obtained by former NSA contractor, Edward Snowden, and disclosed Friday. Officials in Israel have downplayed the revelations, but a pattern of American snooping on the Jewish State has emerged.
As reported in Israel’s Yedioth Ahronoth daily, the NSA and its UK equivalent, GCHQ, ran an electronic eavesdropping operation out of Cyprus. Codenamed “Anarchist,” the unit gained access to air force data as well as the image feeds from Israeli drones. A classified British report from 2008 describes its department’s access as “indispensable for maintaining an understanding of Israeli military training and operations and thus an insight to possible future developments in the region” including “initial detection and tip-off for any potential pre-emptive or retaliatory strike against Iran.
In Jerusalem, reactions to the disclosure were mixed. Yuval Steinitz, a member of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s security cabinet, said the news was “disappointing, inter alia because, going back decades already, we have not spied nor collected intelligence nor hacked encryptions in the United States.” Meanwhile, he cited a senior intelligence analysis as lamenting that, “none of our encoded communications devices are safe from them.”
Other allegations of the U.S. spying on its closest regional ally have persisted in the past few years. The Wall Street Journal reported last month that President Obama ordered the NSA to monitor Prime Minister Netanyahu during nuclear talks with Iran. Documents leaked in 2013 also suggest the U.S. and UK hacked into email accounts belonging to former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Defense Minister Ehud Barak. But this appears to be the first disclosed incident in which the U.S. was spying on IDF activities and breaking encrypted military codes.