Senior officials in the United States have accused Israel of spying on it during talks with Iran and subsequently using the information gained to lobby members of the US Congress against a deal.
The stunning accusation, of an ally bugging an ally and feeding the information to political rivals, is a game-changer, according to those close to the Obama White House.
A spokesman from the Israeli prime minister’s office denied the reports, which first appeared on Tuesday in the Wall Street Journal, quoting sources familiar with evidence of the intelligence-gathering.
“It is one thing for the US and Israel to spy on each other,” they said. “It is another thing for Israel to steal US secrets and play them back to US legislators to undermine US diplomacy.”
Israeli spying came to life when US intelligence agencies heard Israeli officials discussing details that could only have come from access to confidential talks.
“People feel personally sold out,” the senior White House official said. “That’s where the Israelis really better be careful because a lot of these people will not only be around for this administration but possibly the next one as well.”
They added: “If you’re wondering whether something serious has shifted here, the answer is yes. These things leave scars.”
The timing of the story has fuelled suspicions that the feud between US President Barack Obama and Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu has spilled out into the news pages.
It has long been known that the two leaders do not trust each other, but their fractious relationship hit a new low after Netanyahu appeared to go behind Obama’s back to address the US Congress, urging lawmakers not to support a deal with Iran.