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U.S.-Israel Strategic Cooperation: Intelligence Collaboration

One of the most significant contributions Israel has made to U.S. security has been shared intelligence. The truth is the United States has little alternative but to depend on Israel for much of its Middle Eastern human intelligence because the CIA's capability has diminished. In post-revolutionary Iran, the CIA no longer had a presence and the CIA's Lebanon station was virtually wiped out in the 1983 bombing of the U.S. embassy in Beirut. The United States relies on the Mossad and other Israeli intelligence agencies for information about terrorism, radical Islamic movements, weapons proliferation and other Middle East-related events.

For many years, Israel played a key role in assisting U.S. intelligence through the capture and transfer of Soviet weapons systems. For example, Israel supplied the United States with valuable intelligence about Soviet fighters and their avionics. This occurred as recently as 1989 after a Syrian pilot defected in an advanced model of a MIG-23 and American officials were allowed to examine the plane.

A Russian passenger plane travelling from the Egyptian city of Sharm el-Sheikh to St Petersburg, Russia, crashed in the Sinai Peninsula on October 31, 2015, killing all 224 passengers. After weeks of investigations it was determined that a bomb brought down the plane. U.S. and British intelligence services used information gathered from Israeli security sources during the investigation of the crash. Communications from terror groups in the area were intercepted by Israeli security and later given to U.S. and British investigators.

Stuxnet Slows Iranian Enrichment

In 2010, Iran announced that uranium enrichment at Natanz had stopped several times because of a series of technical problems. News reports suggested that as many as 1,000 centrifuges used to enrich uranium were damaged. It was subsequently reported that the destruction was likely caused by sabotage. In June, anti-virus experts discovered a sophisticated computer worm dubbed “Stuxnet,” which spreads via Microsoft Windows and targets Siemens industrial software and equipment used by Iran to control centrifuges used to enrich uranium at its Natanz plant. The New York Times subsequently reported that Stuxnet is part of a U.S. and Israeli intelligence operation called "Operation Olympic Games," initiated by President George W. Bush and expanded under President Barack Obama (New York Times, June 1, 2012).

At the time the worm was reportedly infecting the Iranian machines, IAEA cameras installed in Natanz recorded the sudden dismantling and removal of approximately 900–1000 centrifuges. These were quickly replaced, however, and Iran resumed uranium enrichment (Washington Post, February 16, 2011).

Although Stuxnet was discovered, it is believed that the United States, Israel and others continue to use cyberwarfare in an effort to sabotage Iran’s nuclear program.

Infiltrating ISIS

U.S. diplomats reported in 2014 that Israel has been assisting in the fight against the Islamic State (ISIS) by providing the United States with intelligence information, including lists of Westerners who have joined ISIS. Israel has also provided vital intelligence in the form of drones flying over ISIS territory.  This information is then used to carry out air strikes and plan coordinated attacks. 

In 2017, it was disclosed that Israeli cyberoperators penetrated a cell of bombmakers in Syria. Israel passed on information indicating ISIS had learned to make explosives resembling laptop computer batteries, which can evade detection by airport X-ray machines and other screening devices. The information prompted the United States to ban large electronic devices in carry-on luggage on flights from 10 airports in eight Muslim-majority countries to the United States and Britain. President Trump is believed to have revealed the intelligence to Russian foreign minister, Sergey V. Lavrov, and the ambassador to the United States, Sergey I. Kislyak during during a meeting the Oval Office in May 2017 (David E. Sanger and Eric Schmitt, “U.S. Cyberweapons, Used Against Iran and North Korea, Are a Disappointment Against ISIS,” New York Times, (June 12, 2017)..