Israeli government officials voiced anger at U.S. press leaks traced to the Pentagon following the July 5 Israeli missile attack on the Syrian port of Latakia that destroyed a shipment of Russian-made anti-ship missiles, according to U.S. officials.
Senior Pentagon officials, including Deputy Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter who is currently visiting Israel, discussed the leaks during meetings with Israeli officials this week. The Israelis argued in private meetings and other exchanges that the disclosures could lead to Syrian counterattacks against Israel and should have been coordinated first with the Israeli government.
Pentagon press secretary George Little declined to comment when asked if Carter discussed the leaks in meetings with Israeli officials on Monday.
The Israeli military attack was unusual because it involved a submarine-launched cruise missile strike on the Syrian city of Latakia, a major port.
The covert attack destroyed a stockpile of what was believed to be 50 new Russian-made anti-ship missiles called the Yakhont that U.S. officials said could be used against ships that will provide arms in the future to Syrian rebels.
According to U.S. officials, the Israeli government censored domestic press reports about the attack over concerns that any public discussion might prompt Syrian counterattacks against the Jewish state.
Israel also feared the Yakhont missiles would be transferred to Hezbollah, the Lebanese-based Iranian terrorist organization that in the past was supplied by Iran with advanced Chinese anti-ship missiles.
A Hezbollah-fired C-802 anti-ship missile was used to nearly sink an Israeli corvette off the coast of Lebanon during the 2006 summer war. The C-802s were sold to Iran in the 1990s and transferred to Hezbollah to reaffirm the U.S. commitment to the unprecedented security cooperation between the United States and Israel, and to discuss a range of issues of mutual importance, including Syria and Iran,” by Tehran.
Carter met with senior Israeli security officials “Little said in a statement issued Monday.
Among those who met with Carter were Defense Minister Moshe "Boogie" Ya'alon, National Security Advisor retired Maj. Gen. Yaakov Amidror, and retired Maj. Gen. Udi Shani, director general of the Defense Ministry.
“They reaffirmed that the U.S.-Israel defense relationship has never been stronger and agreed to continue to consult closely on shared security interests,” Little said.
The reports on the Latakia raid that angered the Israelis first appeared on CNN July 12 and a day later in the New York Times.
The news organizations quoted “multiple U.S. officials,” and “American officials” respectively.
Israel has carried out several foreign military attacks in recent years, most notably the airstrike that destroyed a Syrian-North Korean nuclear facility at Al Kibar, Syria.
Israel’s military has also conducted attacks in Syria in recent months that were aimed at destroying caches of shoulder-fired surface-to-air missiles and Iranian short-range ballistic missiles believed destined for Hezbollah fighters.
A U.S. official said signs of Israeli anger over the Latakia raid disclosures appeared in several Israel press outlets. One Israeli official was described as “furious” over the leak because the Pentagon did not coordinate its release of information first with Israel.
Other Israeli officials were quoted as saying that in the aftermath of the Yakhont missile strikes that ties between Israel and Syria had reached a new peak and that there are worries that tying Israel to the attack will prompt Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad to retaliate soon or against a future Israeli attack.
Israel has said that it would take action to prevent chemical weapons from falling into the hands of terrorists in Syria. But it has not commented on its lesser actions against Syrian arms sent to the Damascus regime by Russia or Iran, Assad’s main backers.
Israeli press commentary on the Latakia raid disclosures suggested the U.S. news reported risked the lives of Israeli and may have been part of Obama administration debate over U.S. military intervention in Syria’s civil war.
Another commentator, Dan Margalit, stated in the daily newspaper Yisrael Hayom that the leak was part of a U.S. ploy to force Israel into the Syrian conflict as a way to pressure Assad into stepping down and leaving the country, as a way to avoid U.S. military intervention.
Another journalist, Ron Ben-Yishay, wrote on the news website Ynetnews that the Pentagon leaked the information to show that airstrikes in Syria are possible.
Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, this week outlined U.S. military options for Syria in a letter to Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Sen. Carl Levin (D., Mich.).
The Obama administration recently agreed to supply Syrian rebels with small arms but is considering larger military intervention, including the imposition of an air exclusive zone over Syria.
An Israeli government spokesman referred questions about the leaks to a comment made by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that was published July 21 in the German news outlet Welt am Sonntag.
Asked if it bothered him that sensitive information was leaked on the Latakia raid and other past operations by Israel’s American friends, Netanyahu said: “I am not responsible for what people say we do or don't do. I am responsible for our policy which is to prevent the transfer of dangerous weapons to Hezbollah and I am also responsible for what we say and if I have anything to say, I'll say it.”