NEW YORK — In the run-up to President Barack Obama’s controversial nuclear deal with Iran, the U.S. military under the Obama administration reportedly used American spy satellites to monitor Israel Defense Force actions out of concern that the Jewish state would strike Iran’s nuclear program.
The detail was contained in an extensive New York Times Magazine story titled “The Secret History of the Push to Strike Iran.” The story says it is based on accounts with “dozens of current and former American, Israeli and European officials,” including many top American and Israeli officials cited on the record.
The piece documents the fractured relationship between Israel and the Obama administration on a host of issues, especially disagreements over the emerging nuclear talks with Iran. The Israeli government was initially kept in the dark about the early talks that eventually became the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), the deal that President Trump would later withdraw from.
The Times reported that Obama saw the JCPOA as the “centerpiece of his foreign-policy legacy.” For Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, however, the newspaper reported that the deal would, according to The Times’ characterization, “be the ultimate betrayal — Israel’s closest ally negotiating behind its back with its most bitter enemy.”
The newspaper reported that in the lead up to the talks, the Obama administration spied on Israeli military movements near Iran.
The Times reported:
Obama took the possibility of a sudden Israeli strike seriously. American spy satellites watched Israeli drones take off from bases in Azerbaijan and fly south over the Iranian border — taking extensive pictures of Iran’s nuclear sites and probing whether Iranian air defenses spotted the intrusion. American military leaders made guesses about whether the Israelis might choose a time of the month when the light was higher or lower, or a time of the year when sandstorms occur more or less regularly. Military planners ran war games to forecast how Tehran might respond to an Israeli strike and how America should respond in return: Would Iran assume that any attack had been blessed by the United States and hit American military forces in the Middle East? The results were dismal: The Israeli strikes dealt only minor setbacks to Iran’s nuclear program, and the United States was enmeshed in yet another war in the Middle East.
This is not the Obama administration’s only alleged surveillance actions concerning the nuclear deal. Another action reportedly spied on American citizens.
In 2015, The Wall Street Journal cited current and former U.S. officials at the time divulging that U.S. surveillance programs captured communications between members of Congress and Israeli leaders, providing intelligence information about Israeli efforts to lobby against the JCPOA.
According to officials cited in the report, the Obama-era National Security Agency zeroed in on targeting Netanyahu himself and those around him.
The Journal further reported that the surveillance “also swept up the contents of some of their private conversations with U.S. lawmakers and American-Jewish groups.”
There is a larger theme of the Obama administration utilizing spy agencies for controversial purposes. As part of the questionable Russia collusion probe, former Obama-era national security adviser Susan Rice reportedly unmasked senior members of Trump’s presidential campaign.