When Friends Leak

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U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry sits with Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu. (State Department/Sipa USA/Newscom)

There is an old political adage: “There are no permanent friends or enemies in international relations, only interests.” While it is unquestionably true that the U.S.-Israel relationship is rock solid, and that the United States and Israel share a deep friendship and a thick web of interests, there appears to be one or more people at the Pentagon who decided that it would be in America’s interest to leak that it was Israel that launched an air strike against a Syrian arms depot near the city of Latakia on July 5.

Israel has not commented on whether it was behind the attack, which targeted a delivery of Russian-made advanced anti-ship cruise missiles. Israel’s policy is to keep silent on clandestine attacks. But Israel has repeatedly stated that it would do what is necessary to prevent weapons from falling into Hezbollah’s hands. The Yakhont missiles, which were the target of the July 5 attack, could threaten both Israeli and American ships in the Mediterranean.

Israel is a U.S. ally and friend, and everyone at the Pentagon understands how volatile the current situation in Syria really is. So why would “three unnamed U.S. officials” point a finger at Israel, and identify her as the July 5 actor, even though Syria appears largely content to remain relatively silent about the event, and apparently willing to let the pinpoint attacks go unattributed?

A number of theories were circulating this week: One said that the leak was intentional, and was used as a warning to Prime Minister Netanyahu against his renewed belligerent talk about Iran. Another was that it was a way to punish Binyamin Netanyahu for being uncooperative in a U.S. court case against a Chinese bank. And yet another theory claimed that the leak was either a stupid or careless mistake at one or both sides of the relationship.

We don’t know.

But we do know that this wasn’t the first instance of a leak by a U.S. source that disclosed Israeli military information. Less than two months ago, in May, the U.S. apologized after a Pentagon source leaked that Israel carried out airstrikes in Syria against a shipment of Iranian-made weapons. Israel was silent after that leak, as well.

Regardless of the reasons for the leaks, they must stop. They hardly advance the U.S.’s image, and they certainly don’t serve Israeli interests. Besides, even in the warped world of international diplomacy, good friends are supposed to support one another, especially when one has the other’s back.

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