Reports that Israel was the source of highly classified information that President Trump shared with Russian officials last week has left a chill among current and former intelligence officials.
Israeli intelligence officers are taking the matter seriously, a military intelligence officer said Tuesday.
The officer, who asked not to be identified because he was not authorised to speak publicly, said Israel was warned months ago to be careful about sharing information with Trump’s staff, and now that warning has been realised.
Israel’s vaunted intelligence service, known for an extensive network of human sources and technical collection throughout the Middle East, regularly shares detailed information with the United States, its closest ally.
In January, the outgoing Obama administration warned Israeli intelligence officials that Trump’s national security staff was inexperienced and should be handled with care.
Last week’s incident will likely lead to some adjustments in the quality of intelligence shared in the future by Israel and other countries, said Michael Herzog, a retired brigadier general and former intelligence officer with the Israel Defense Forces.
Herzog said the incident could damage the level of trust and ongoing collaboration between the United States and its allies.
Countries will “think twice before sharing sensitive information after an event like this,” he said. “Today there was some news from the Europeans, that they are thinking carefully before sharing delicate information. I don’t want to overstate this, but it is real.”
The New York Times reported Tuesday that Israel provided the classified intelligence about an Islamic State plot that Trump shared at the White House with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak.
The intelligence referred to Islamic State “terrorism and airline flight safety” that could impact both the U.S. and Russia, Trump said in a pair of tweets Tuesday.
A senior European intelligence official told the Associated Press his country might stop sharing information with the United States.
Such sharing could risk intelligence sources, the official told the AP, speaking on condition that neither he nor his country be identified, because he was not authorized to discuss the matter publicly.
“It is a long-held rule among intelligence agencies that when you receive intelligence from an ally, you cannot give it to a third party without the explicit permission of the first party,” Herzog explained.
The disclosure could also hurt sources and the ability to collect information on the planning for a possible attack, he said.
“In the worst cases, someone planning an attack can become aware that his plan has been uncovered and can change plans and do it in another way. In those cases, your chance of preventing a terror attack can be severely impaired,” Herzog said.
Another concern about sharing intelligence is that Russia could pass the information to its collaborators in Syria, Iran and Hezbollah, which are Israel’s adversaries in the region.
Yet, Israel and Russia already share information regarding Syria, so any risk could be small, said Paul Scham, executive director of the Gildenhorn Institute for Israel Studies at the University of Maryland.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has travelled regularly to Moscow for talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin since 2015, when Russia began its air campaign to bolster Syrian President Bashar Assad.
Israel also conducted several airstrikes in Syria to prevent the transfer of advanced weapons to Hezbollah. Israel and Russia have not interfered with each other’s aircraft while operating close to the Israeli-Syrian border.
The Russians and Israelis share aircraft codes “so they don’t shoot each other down,” Scham said. “Russia probably does not want to harm its relationship with Israel, because both of them have sort of an understanding that seems to have generally worked.”