We’ve heard a lot in the last few weeks from the Obama administration about their duty to protect the nation’s secrets. To that end, Attorney General Eric Holder has not only pursued an unprecedented wave of prosecutions of alleged leakers of classified information but also authorized spying on journalists that threatens the ability of the press to do its job. But apparently the administration isn’t that worried about the spilling of an ally’s secrets. As McClatchy reported earlier this week, a Defense Department website has published top-secret details about a new Israeli army base where the next generation of the Arrow missile defense system will be installed. And while the impact of the leaks prosecuted by Holder on U.S. national security is debatable, there doesn’t appear to be much doubt that the publication of the Israeli information could endanger that nation’s ability to defend the facility.
As McClatchy reports:
“If an enemy of Israel wanted to launch an attack against a facility, this would give him an easy how-to guide. This type of information is closely guarded and its release can jeopardize the entire facility,” said an Israeli military official who commented on the publication of the proposal but declined to be named because he wasn’t authorized to discuss the facility. He declined to say whether plans for the facility have been altered as a result of the disclosure.
“This is more than worrying, it is shocking,” he said.
Apparently, the leak was not so much the result of malice but bureaucratic inertia. The information on the Israeli base that will house the Arrow 3 system that the U.S. will help build contained specifications about every conceivable aspect of the place including the heating and cooling systems and the thickness of the walls. But according to the Pentagon, making this information public was just routine since they are required to publish details of construction projects in order to help contractors estimate costs for bids. But it seems that it occurred to no one in the Defense Department that spilling that much information could compromise Israel’s security.
The controversy illustrates the danger to Israel of its dependence on the United States. But the reason for their decision to involve the U.S. in construction of the new base says more about their fears about a nuclear Iran than it does about a desire to remain in thrall to the Americans.
Whereas the current version of Arrow is oriented toward stopping missile attacks on Israel from Gaza or Lebanon, the Arrow 3 is a system that is capable of intercepting attacks from as far as 1,500 miles away, i.e. Iran. With the Iranians moving closer to nuclear capability every day with no sign that diplomacy or sanctions will cause them to halt, the decision to fast-track construction of the Arrow 3 and the consequent heavy U.S. involvement in Israeli security is entirely understandable.
There are two conclusions to be drawn from this story.
One is that the hypocrisy of the U.S. government about leaking knows no bounds. We already knew that leakers of the most sensitive national security secrets aren’t likely to be prosecuted if those revealing the information do so in order to puff the reputation of President Obama. The leaks of stories about the president’s involvement in cyber warfare against Iran and the hunt for Osama bin Laden to newspapers like the New York Times don’t seem to have attracted much attention from prosecutors. We now know the security establishment is also asleep at the switch when it comes to the revelation of classified information about Israel.
The second is that Israel is still not at the point where it can rely only on itself for national defense.
As much as many Israelis and their friends would like to think the country is wealthy enough to develop and pay for all of its defense projects, without aid from the United States those efforts would not be able to be expedited as much as they are now. There is a high price to be paid for this dependence both in terms of having to defer to American policy initiatives and also lack of control over all aspects of the endeavor. There will be those who point to the leak of the Arrow base information as proof that it is time for Israel to separate itself from the U.S. in this regard. But the need to provide a viable missile defense system against Iran can’t wait. Like it or not, Israel still needs its only major power ally. As much as the Arrow 3 leaks are troubling, the strategic alliance between the U.S. and Israel is still a necessity, not an option.