JERUSALEM — Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Monday that he has ordered a probe into reports that the United States and Britain had monitored communications of the previous prime minister and defense minister, calling the actions unacceptable.
Netanyahu also reiterated Israel’s call for the release of Jonathan Jay Pollard, an American Navy intelligence analyst sentenced to life in prison in 1987 for spying for Israel.
Documents leaked by Edward Snowden, a former contractor for the National Security Agency, which detailed surveillance by the agency and Britain’s eavesdropping agency, the Government Communications Headquarters, showed that in 2009 they had monitored email traffic of several Israeli officials, including Ehud Olmert, the Israeli prime minister at the time, and the defense minister, Ehud Barak.
Contents of the leaked documents were published Friday by The New York Times, Britain’s The Guardian and Germany’s Der Spiegel. The references to U.S. spying on Israel drew sharp criticism from some Israeli Cabinet ministers, who said the time was now ripe for Pollard’s release.
Netanyahu, who on Sunday appeared to respond mildly to the reports, was more forceful on Monday, in an apparent nod to the critics.
“Regarding the recent publications, I’ve asked that an inquiry be conducted into the matter,” Netanyahu said in remarks broadcast on Israel Radio. “In the close relationship between Israel and the United States, there are things that are forbidden to do, and which are unacceptable to us.”
On Sunday, the Israeli intelligence minister, Yuval Steinitz, called the reported U.S. spying on Israel “illegitimate,” saying that Israel did not spy on the U.S. president or secretary of defense under commitments given after Pollard was arrested in 1985.
Responding to the renewed calls for Pollard’s release, Netanyahu said he had met with Pollard’s wife, Esther, to update her on the government’s efforts to free him. Pollard was convicted of passing intelligence information to Israel while serving as a civilian intelligence analyst for the U.S. Navy, and Israeli leaders have been pressing Washington to free him, asserting that he has paid enough for his actions.
“He should have been released a long time ago,” Netanyahu said.
In Miami, Israel’s ambassador to the United States, Ron Dermer, told the Miami Herald that the latest spying episode “is not going to affect the intelligence cooperation and intelligence-sharing, because both countries have so much to gain from it.”
“We, in Israel, working in the prime minister’s office, we always take precautions with our communications,” said Dermer, who was born and raised in Miami Beach before becoming an Israeli citizen.
“Nothing to do with the U.S., but we know there’s probably many of people listening in from around the world,” he said. “We’re very careful, and I doubt very much there will be great revelations from these emails or other information they have. I think this is going to be a blip in the relationship between the United States and Israel.”
Evan S. Benn of The Miami Herald contributed from Miami.
Greenberg is a McClatchy special correspondent.