Boy, what a difference a day makes.
On Monday, I published an article in Middle East Eye in which I speculated that Jordan was the likely source of the intelligence which Donald Trump relayed to the Russians about an ISIS airplane bomb plot. I wrote then:
None of the media stories reveal the name of the foreign nation whose operation Trump exposed. Some have speculated that it might be Israel or Turkey. But my guess is that it is Jordan, because it has one of the best intelligence agencies in the Arab world and is highly motivated to penetrate ISIS since it poses a grave danger to Jordan, whose neighbor, Syria, is a key refuge for the Islamist group.
Jordan’s King Abdullah has a vested interest in currying favor with Pres. Trump, as the former seeks to be a broker for Israeli-Palestinian peace. Abdullah understands that if the U.S. administration gets this wrong, then it could have disastrous consequences for Jordan itself, as the guardian of the Haram al-Sharif Muslim holy site. Jordan also has a very large Palestinian population and has always played a major role in Palestinian affairs.
It’s noteworthy that the King rushed to the U.S. at the beginning of Trump’s term, when statements about moving the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem and abandoning the traditional U.S. two-state formula were bandied about the U.S. media. The Arab monarch’s mission was to warn the administration of the damage it could do to U.S. relations with the Muslim world should it pursue such a radical. His visit seemed to have the desired effect, as the administration began to dial back its previous enthusiasm for Israeli far-right talking points.
Now, Trump may have to explain in person to the King how and why he compromised a major Jordanian intelligence operation. It’s noteworthy that given Russia’s own interests in propping up Syria’s Pres. Assad, it very well might sabotage the Jordanian project. Thus, years of intelligence work and millions of dollars’ worth of operational investment could go down the drain. All due to the foolhardiness of Donald Trump seeking to impress his Russian friends.
Later that same day, American media first reported that Israel, not Jordan, was the source. I dutifully backtracked, updated that article and published a revised version here. Now, in the past few hours Al Jazeera has published a new account based on Jordanian intelligence sources stating that my original hunch was right all along. Jordanian spies infiltrated ISIS and gleaned the information. The chief of Jordanian intelligence then passed this information on to the Israelis with whom it has an exceedingly close security relationship. Israel in turn passed it on the Washington.
There are several interesting complications involved in this scenario. While Israeli and Jordanian security services are closely tied (as the Dirar Abusisi case showed) that does not necessarily mean the Jordanians gave approval to the Israelis to pass it along to the Trump administration. They may have or may not have. If they didn’t, then Trump’s leak is doubly damaging–both to Israel and Jordan. It could cause the Israelis to back off future sharing of such information. It could also cause the Jordanians to be angry with Israel and back off future collaborations. Even more importantly, it could and likely has endangered the Jordanian agent who infiltrated ISIS and learned of the laptop bomb plot.
There is an even more peculiar explanation that may be possible. In all the discussion, most analysts have speculated the source of the information was human intelligence (HUMINT), a physical source on the ground. Few have acknowledged that Israel has the best SIGINT operation in the region, almost on a par with the NSA: Unit 8200. So it’s possible that the latter has been listening to internal communications by ISIS. Or it may be listening to Jordanian intelligence communication with its own spy within ISIS. That means that Jordan may not have even known that Israel was aware of the plot and that it was passing it on to Trump.
The media have noted how beleaguered Trump appears and that he’s not looking forward to his Middle East trip. One major reason is that he will have to look King Abdullah in the face and explain why he endangered an agent and agency which had invested so much to help undermine ISIS’ foul plots. Then he will have to explain to Israeli intelligence why and how he let it down in sharing the information with the Russians.
As an aside, it’s comic in a very dark way that Avigdor Lieberman is downplaying the significance of the Trump leak and the possibility that the President is a Russian asset. That’s rich coming from a figure who much of the Israeli public, media and intelligence apparatus believes is himself a Russian asset.
Bibi’s Manufactured Dust-Up over Trump Kotel Visit
Yesterday, I critiqued the Israeli claim regarding coördination meetings between the Israeli and American advance teams for Pres. Trump’s visit to the Kotel (Western Wall). I derided the claim by the prime minister’s men that an American diplomat had yelled that the Kotel was occupied territory and that Israeli sovereignty over it was not recognized by the U.S.
I suspected that the real reason for the dust-up was that the Israelis saw a presidential visit to Israel’s holiest site as a prime hasbara opportunity. It was likely Bibi Netanyahu himself wanted to horn in on the action, get a joint photo with the president at the site, and broadcast to the entire world that the U.S. president affirms Israel’s claim to this conquered land. I should add that no Israeli prime minister has ever accompanied a U.S. president to the Kotel. Nor has one accompanied a presidential candidate there. Indeed, Trump is the first sitting president to visit the sacred site. Which is in itself controversial since it implies tacit American recognition of Israeli sovereignty over it.
Indeed, I was right. This was the Israeli plan all along. And the U.S. diplomat, whose name is David Berns, now has his job in jeopardy. He appears to have taken down his entire LinkedIn profile no doubt due to venom being spewed at him by Israel uber alles types. But he was absolutely right in rejecting Israel’s importuning. Such a photo image transmitted around the world would enrage most of the Muslim world with which Trump is attempting to reconcile following his barring of the doors to Muslim refugees. Israel would not have to deal with this fallout (except in a tertiary way). The U.S. would. The flag would burn. Muslims would riot. Americans would die. All to give a propaganda and political boost to Bibi Netanyahu.
This article was published at Tikun Olam.