Israel was the source of the Islamic State (Isis)-related intelligence that President Donald Trump shared with Russian diplomats in a meeting at the Oval Office earlier in May, three government officials with knowledge of the matter revealed. Trump confirmed a report by The Washington Post but claimed he had an "absolute right" to share the information.
Trump's decision to share intel with the Russians could potentially strain US relations with Israel, a key ally and major intelligence collector in the Middle East. According to The New York Times, there is also the risk that the information could be passed on to Iran, a close ally to Moscow and Tel Aviv's main threat in the region.
Israel did not confirm that it was the source of the classified information Trump shared with Russia. In a statement to the New York Times, Israeli ambassador to the US, Ron Dermer, reaffirmed the close counterterrorism partnership between Israel and the US.
"Israel has full confidence in our intelligence-sharing relationship with the United States and looks forward to deepening that relationship in the years ahead under President Trump," Dermer said.
Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who met earlier on Tuesday (16 May) with the new US ambassador to Israel, David Friedman, has not commented on the situation.
Meanwhile, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer refused to comment on the source, but offered the Trump administration's appreciation for the relationship between the two countries, NBC News reported.
"We appreciate the strong relationship we have with Israel," Spicer said in off-camera comments to reporters. Spicer added that the White House hopes "to continue to grow" intelligence sharing.
The New York Times was the first to report that Israel was the source behind the Isis-related intelligence. The new details comes a day after The Washington Post revealed that Trump told Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov classified information regarding a laptop bomb threat and revealed the Syrian city where the information was gathered.
According to the Times, officials said that Israel had previously urged the US to be cautious about handling the intelligence Trump discussed.
On Tuesday (16 May), Trump took to Twitter to claim he had an "absolute right" to divulge information in the interest of combating terrorism. The president called it a "very, very successful meeting" in a brief appearance with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan at the White House.
Trump's national security adviser, Lt. Gen. HR McMaster, told reporters he was not worried that intelligence sharing among allies would stop, the Times reported. "What the president discussed with the foreign minister was wholly appropriate to that conversation and is consistent with the routine sharing of information between the president any leaders with whom he's engaged," McMaster said in a White House briefing.
McMaster also noted that the president was unaware who shared the information with the US and had made a spontaneous decision to tell the Russian diplomats the classified intel.
Trump's decision to share the information was questioned by members of Congress, as well as White House staffers. "The disclosure of highly classified information has the potential to jeopardise sources and to discourage our allies from sharing future information vita to our security," noted Senator Susan Collins (R-Maine).