Former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu scaled back Israel’s intelligence cooperation with the United States when President Joe Biden took office earlier this year, the New York Times reported Thursday.
According to the report, the US is increasingly dependent on Israeli intelligence on Iran’s nuclear program, as Tehran has effectively cracked down on the American spy network in the country.
The outlet cited unnamed American and Israeli officials saying that after US president Donald Trump’s term ended, Jerusalem withheld information from Washington to prevent the Biden administration from curtailing its covert military operations aimed at obstructing Iran’s nuclear program.
One example was the strike in April on the Natanz nuclear plant in Iran, widely attributed to Israel.
The report said the White House was allegedly given just two hours’ notice of the plan, “far too short a time for the United States to assess the operation or ask Israel to call it off.”
Senior Biden administration officials were quoted as alleging Israel had “violated a longstanding, unwritten agreement to at least advise the United States of covert operations, giving Washington a chance to object.”
The report said the reason for the policy change was Netanyahu’s distrust of Biden and the feeling in Israel that his administration was inattentive to Jerusalem’s security concerns.
According to the report, former Mossad intelligence chief Yossi Cohen tried to patch up the relationship two weeks after the Natanz bombing, meeting Biden and CIA officials in Washington to discuss the issue. He was given a warm reception, the report said.
Some Israeli officials quoted in the report said Israel feared Washington would leak the information, as US administrations have done with other operations.
American officials denied that charge, and some of them claimed Netanyahu was resuming his grudge against the administration of Barack Obama, which negotiated the nuclear deal with Biden as vice president.
A former Obama administration said that at the time, the US kept the negotiations with Iran secret, with Israel learning about them independently.
Netanyahu was convinced US intelligence agencies were keeping him under surveillance while Obama was in office, a former Israeli official said, without further elaborating.
The report comes as Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and Biden are set to hold their first meeting later Thursday, with the newspaper saying a central goal for the premier is to guarantee continued American support for Israeli secret operations against Iran’s nuclear program.
It added that an important issue that will be discussed is restoring trust between the countries on intelligence-sharing, with Bennett’s position strengthened by Israel’s superior spy network operating in the Islamic Republic.
Bennett is in Washington for the first time since becoming prime minister, holding a series of meetings with top administration officials, with the Iranian nuclear threat the most pressing issue on his agenda.
Bennett’s government opposes US efforts to return to the Iran nuclear agreement signed in 2015 by the Obama administration and abandoned three years later by Trump. Biden has been seeking a return to the deal, but this has looked increasingly unlikely as Iran has moved further away from its obligations and as a hardline president, Ebrahim Raisi, has taken office in Tehran.