Israel spied on nuclear negotiations between six world powers and Iran, as well as on the U.S., in order to learn details that could help undermine the emerging deal in the eyes of Congress, the Wall Street Journal reports.
The Israelis not only eavesdropped on the talks, but were able to access information from confidential U.S. briefings and speak to informants and diplomatic contacts in Europe. The effort was tied to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's opposition to a nuclear deal, which culminated in a speech to the House and Senate earlier this month. In that speech, he lobbied Congress to block the Obama administration's current efforts.
The Journal reports that it was not the actual spying that upset the White House - it's common for allies to spy on one another and Israel conducts some of the most aggressive espionage, alongside countries like China, Russia and France - but the fact that Israel was feeding the information to lawmakers to undermine the administration's attempts at nuclear talks.
"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," a senior U.S. official told the paper.
House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, told reporters Tuesday that he was "baffled" by the story.
"There was no information revealed to me whatsoever," Boehner said. "I was shocked by the fact that there were reports in this press article that information was being passed on from the Israelis to members of Congress. I'm not aware of that at all."
Israeli officials have denied the espionage and said that the information came from surveillance of Iranian leaders and more transparent information about the talks from Israel. The White House apparently discovered Israel's spying when their own surveillance picked up on conversations between the country's leaders that included confidential information from the nuclear negotiations.
A senior official in Netanyahu's office told the Journal: "These allegations are utterly false. The state of Israel does not conduct espionage against the United States or Israel's other allies. The false allegations are clearly intended to undermine the strong ties between the United States and Israel and the security and intelligence relationship we share."
The administration appeared to anticipate Israel's reaction to the talks and did not inform Netanyahu that they were taking place until September 2013, a year after they began. Israeli officials say they knew, in spite of U.S. attempts to keep them secret. Netanyahu and Ron Dermer, the Israeli ambassador to the U.S., began briefing members of Congress about the deal and, according ot the White House, exaggerating the sanctions relief Iran would receive, the Journal reports.