Countries, including allies, routinely spy on each other. That’s not news. The question is what do they hope to gain by it? Often some form of information. Some allies spy on each other because they possess information about mutual enemies and aren’t sharing it. Others because they’re enemies rather than allies.
The opening of the Newsweek article states that, “Preparing for any potential war against Iran, the Biden administration has formally elevated Israel in military planning. Israel’s changed status comes as the U.S. military refocuses from the ‘war on terror’ to potential combat with the big four—China, Russia, North Korea, and Iran. As Israel has become a full-fledged military partner, the U.S. intelligence community is also putting more emphasis on its Hebrew language program to spy on its number-one Mideast ally.”
It’s easy to elevate Israel’s role in military planning when…
1. The Biden administration is dead set on not fighting a war against Iran anyway.
2. The primary reason for the military keeping Israel at a distance were the objections from the Saudis. That is no longer a factor. If anything, bringing Israel in is meant to neutralize the possibility of some independent Israeli-Arab action against Iran.
The ‘tell’ here is that the Biden administration is doubling efforts to spy on Israel. Why?
Israel is consistently at the top of U.S. intelligence priorities.
Israel is a world military leader and an expert in many forms of modern warfare—air and missile defense, directed energy weapons such as lasers, and unmanned systems—that the Pentagon perceives are crucial in any future battle. Israel possesses nuclear weapons and has unilateral policies and plans against its adversaries that are of interest to the top decision-makers in Washington.
Israel’s weapons technology isn’t an issue here. Israeli defense contractors are eager to work with their U.S. counterparts. A big reason for what’s often labeled as foreign aid to Israel is that the defense industries of both countries are entangled. And technologies like certain kinds of drones or missile defense systems are developed and tested in Israel before being adopted by the U.S. defense industry.
The latter is more accurate.
The Obama administration aggressively amped up spying on Israel in order to gain early information on any Israeli attack plans against Iran in order to sabotage them as it did on at least one occasion.
That’s what the Biden administration is also obsessed with.
Functionally, the Biden administration is spying on Israel for Iran.
The NSA—responsible for signals intelligence—currently has some 250 Hebrew linguists who translate secure Israel government dispatches, military communications, and highly targeted cell phone traffic. A significant number also monitor and analyze Israeli press, social media and other open source communications in Hebrew. (Hundreds more Hebrew linguists work under contract, both at the NSA and other intelligence agencies, assisting government employees and members of the armed services.)
By 2025, according to intelligence sources, the number of qualified military Hebrew linguists is programmed to double. That number is increasing, according to intelligence documents and government sources, partly to service the increased cooperation.
English is widely spoken in Israel. Anyone detailed to work with the United States is going to speak English even if it’s rough or with an accent. Anything provided to the United States can easily be translated into English and likely is. A whole lot of extra Hebrew linguists aren’t needed for a cooperative relationship.
For that matter this is true of most countries. A whole lot more people abroad speak English than Americans speak foreign languages that aren’t Spanish. Rushing linguists isn’t a matter of being able to communicate with opposite numbers.
Israel is a difficult country to spy on, not only because of its technical expertise and its routine focus on “operational security” against its neighbors and other adversaries. That means that it practices good communications and cybersecurity discipline and uses sophisticated cryptography in coding its messages. Much of the U.S. intelligence collection effort consequently is focused on micro-targeting of individuals (i.e., their cell phones, computers and other devices) where intelligence can be gleaned from more easily exploitable devices.
That’s not being done to steal technology, but to gain insight into what Israeli officials are planning.
“The more that Israel is a credible military opponent of Iran, the very reason for this shake-up, the more that they are also suspect for the very capabilities that we are helping to create and improve,” says the senior intelligence official who has worked on the relationship. “This is a case of ‘keep your enemies close and your friends closer,'” the official says.
Yes, but who’s the friend and who’s the enemy?