Cash, Weapons and Surveillance: the U.S. is a Key Party to Every Israeli Attack by Glen Greenwald

Featured photo - Cash, Weapons and Surveillance: the U.S. is a Key Party to Every Israeli Attack  
U.S. President Barack Obama (L) greets Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during a press conference on March 20, 2013 in Jerusalem, Israel. Photo credit: Lior Mizrahi/Getty Images 
The U.S. government has long lavished overwhelming aid on Israel, providing cash, weapons and surveillance technology that play a crucial role in Israel’s attacks on its neighbors. But top secret documents provided by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden shed substantial new light on how the U.S. and its partners directly enable Israel’s military assaults – such as the one on Gaza.
Over the last decade, the NSA has significantly increased the surveillance assistance it provides to its Israeli counterpart, the Israeli SIGINT National Unit (ISNU; also known as Unit 8200), including data used to monitor and target Palestinians. In many cases, the NSA and ISNU work cooperatively with the British and Canadian spy agencies, the GCHQ and CSEC.

The relationship has, on at least one occasion, entailed the covert payment of a large amount of cash to Israeli operatives. Beyond their own surveillance programs, the American and British surveillance agencies rely on U.S.-supported Arab regimes, including the Jordanian monarchy and even the Palestinian Authority Security Forces, to provide vital spying services regarding Palestinian targets.

The new documents underscore the indispensable, direct involvement of the U.S. government and its key allies in Israeli aggression against its neighbors. That covert support is squarely at odds with the posture of helpless detachment typically adopted by Obama officials and their supporters.

President Obama, in his press conference on Friday, said ”it is heartbreaking to see what’s happening there,” referring to the weeks of civilian deaths in Gaza – “as if he’s just a bystander, watching it all unfold,” observed Brooklyn College Professor Corey Robin. Robin added: ”Obama talks about Gaza as if it were a natural disaster, an uncontrollable biological event.”

Each time Israel attacks Gaza and massacres its trapped civilian population – at the end of 2008, in the fall of 2012, and now again this past month – the same process repeats itself in both U.S. media and government circles: the U.S. government feeds Israel the weapons it uses and steadfastly defends its aggression both publicly and at the U.N.; the U.S. Congress unanimously enacts one resolution after the next to support and enable Israel; and then American media figures pretend that the Israeli attack has nothing to do with their country, that it’s just some sort of unfortunately intractable, distant conflict between two equally intransigent foreign parties in response to which all decent Americans helplessly throw up their hands as though they bear no responsibility.

“The United States has been trying to broker peace in the Middle East for the past 20 years,” wrote the liberal commentator Kevin Drum in Mother Jones, last Tuesday. The following day, CNN reported that the Obama administration ”agreed to Israel’s request to resupply it with several types of ammunition … Among the items being bought are 120mm mortar rounds and 40mm ammunition for grenade launchers.”

The new Snowden documents illustrate a crucial fact: Israeli aggression would be impossible without the constant, lavish support and protection of the U.S. government, which is anything but a neutral, peace-brokering party in these attacks. And the relationship between the NSA and its partners on the one hand, and the Israeli spying agency on the other, is at the center of that enabling.

Tally of UN Vote on July 22, 2014 to investigate violations of international law in West Bank and Gaza (Credit: Ken Roth, Human Rights Watch)

Tally of UN Vote on July 22, 2014 to investigate violations of international law in West Bank and Gaza (Credit: Ken Roth, Human Rights Watch)

Last September, the Guardian revealed that the NSA “routinely shares raw intelligence data with Israel without first sifting it to remove information about US citizens.” The paper published the full top secret Memoranadum of Understanding between the two agencies governing that sharing. But the NSA/ISNU relationship extends far beyond that.

One newly disclosed top secret NSA document, dated April 13, 2013 and published today by the Intercept, recounts that the “NSA maintains a far-reaching technical and analytic relationship with the Israeli SIGINT National Unit (ISNU) sharing information on access, intercept, targeting, language, analysis and reporting.”

Specifically, “this SIGINT relationship has increasingly been the catalyst for a broader intelligence relationship between the United States and Israel.” Moreover, “NSA’s cyber partnerships expanded beyond ISNU to include Israeli Defense Intelligence’s [Special Operation Division] SOD and Mossad.”

Under this expanded cooperation, the Americans and Israelis work together to gain access to “geographic targets [that] include the countries of North Africa, the Middle East, the Persian Gulf, South Asia, and the Islamic republics of the former Soviet Union.” It also includes “a dedicated communications line between NSA and ISNU [that] supports the exchange of raw material, as well as daily analytic and technical correspondence.”

The relationship has provided Israel with ample support for both intelligence and surveillance: “The Israeli side enjoys the benefits of expanded geographic access to world-class NSA cryptanalytic and SIGINT engineering expertise, and also gains controlled access to advanced U.S. technology and equipment via accommodation buys and foreign military sales.” Among Israel’s p
riorities for the cooperation are what the NSA calls “Palestinian terrorism.”

The cooperation between the NSA and ISNU began decades ago. A top secret agreement between the two agencies from July 1999 recounts that the first formal intelligence-sharing agreement was entered into in 1968 between U.S. President Lyndon Johnson and Israeli Prime Minister Levi Eshkol, and informally began in the 1950s. But the relationship has grown rapidly in the last decade.