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President of the United States Donald Trump became a participant in a new "spy scandal". The Washington Post and The New York Times state that on May 10, during a meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Russian ambassador Sergei Kislyak in the White House, Donald Trump shared data of the intelligence of an American ally in the Middle East about the forthcoming ISIS terrorist attacks using laptops on board Airliner. The president even called a city in which the intelligence officer extracted this information, told them about the US measures to prevent this threat, about military operations in Syria. The New York Times suggested that Donald Trump declassified information obtained by the special services of Israel. The way in which intelligence data is exchanged between Washington and Tel Aviv and the information leak has allegedly been known by a former American official who preferred to remain anonymous.
The White House did not officially confirm the disclosure of classified information. US National Security Adviser Herbert McMaster said that Donald Trump did not disclose any secret data during a meeting with Russian diplomats. Sergei Lavrov, after meeting with Donald Trump, stressed that the US president wants to have with the Russian Federation "normal mutual respectful relations, based on properly realized common interests," including combating terrorism. Trump himself wrote in his Twitter that as a president he has the right to share facts related to terrorism and aviation security with Russia and wants Russia to multiply efforts in the fight against ISIS.
"Yanukovych Syndrome" or democrats' machinations?
According to the American media, Trump violated the secret services' etiquette: it is impossible to divulge intelligence without the consent of the party that provided them. As a businessman and a man who for most of his life did not touch politics, Trump could have a dialogue with Sergei Lavrov as with some colleague from another company. Business is not foreign politics, therefore, even with today's competitors, it is possible to agree on a mutually beneficial partnership. First, the US showed its teeth to Russians in Syria, bombing the Shayrat airfield, and now they make it clear that they are ready to cooperate if Russia takes into account their interests and enters the anti-terrorist coalition. The common interest is the fight against ISIS. Trump could share secret information in order to induce the Russian Federation to fight more actively against ISIS. Today, American or Israeli passenger planes might become targets of terrorists attack, and tomorrow – Russian ones might be attacked. Trump is ready to go on the principle of "trust is the key to mutual understanding." His actions are similar to the blunders of former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych, a politically illiterate man.
Everything could be much more complicated than it seems at first sight. It is possible that the "spy scandal" is a smear campaign aimed at discrediting the image of Donald Trump and the entire Republican Party. For some reason, the assumptions that Trump allegedly merged the Russians with the intelligence of Israelis appeared in the media shortly after the dismissal of the director of the FBI, James Comey, that along with the president's initiatives in the field of health care reform and tax cuts, he is criticized by opponents from the Democratic Party. Among the Republicans, there are enough politicians like Vice President Mike Pence, Defense Secretary General James Mattis, National Security Adviser to General Herbert McMaster, Senator John McCain, who do not consider it expedient to draw closer to Russia.
However, the president's failures leave dirty spots on the reputation of the entire Republican Party. Republicans hardly got rid of the negative image that enveloped the party during the years of George W. Bush's presidency. Because of high military spending and large losses in the course of military operations in Afghanistan and Iraq under Bush, Republican candidates John McCain and Mitt Romney lost to Barack Obama in two presidential elections in a row. Democrats benefit from an "espionage scandal," since the impeachment issue of Donald Trump would again be exaggerated in the media, and members of his team will continue to be stigmatized by "Kremlin agents."
Now, Donald Trump is in a less favorable position than George W. Bush, during whose rule the United States had strong partnerships with Israel and other countries in the Middle East. Democrats could launch ambiguous information in the media on the day of his meeting with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, on the eve of a visit to Israel and Saudi Arabia. "The espionage scandal" is a kind of obstacle for Democrats on the Republican path to strengthen the US position in the Middle East, which the democrats lost in Obama's two terms. This "spy scandal" might negatively affect the credibility of the United States among the countries of the Middle East.
Disappointment of Netanyahu
If Trump divulged the intelligence of the Mossad, he personally destroyed the favorable prospects for establishing relations with Israel, which deteriorated under Obama. In his election program, Trump viewed Israel as the main partner in the Middle East. During a meeting with Trump in February, Benjamin Netanyahu called him "a real friend of Israel," but now declined to comment on the "espionage scandal." Israeli ambassador Ron Dermer is convinced that Israel and the US would continue close cooperation in the fight against terrorism, and his country fully trusts the US in the field of intelligence sharing. The Israeli media are trying to refute suspicions that the secret information belonged to Israel. According to the Haaretz newspaper, intelligence services in Syria are being collected not only by Israel's special services, but also by Jordan.
It is unprofitable to Netanyahu to bring down a flurry of criticism on the USA right now. It is advantageous for Israel not to clarify relations with the US, but to convince the owner of the White House to support his line on settling the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. Israel hopes that Washington will change its position on Israeli settlements in the West Bank. The US under Obama supported the UN Security Council resolution condemning Israel's construction of settlements in the Palestinian territories and called on the country's leadership to withdraw them. Israel has been using settlements for years as a kind of fortress to prevent Islamic extremists from entering the territory of Israel from Jordan. The West Bank is a more stable region than the Gaza Strip, where the Hamas terrorist organization is in power, which periodically fires on Israeli territory.
Yet US bilateral relations with Israel might worsen. Potentially, there could be a threat to the security of a spy who, under cover, collected information about the planned terrorist attacks of ISIS. Israel may stop informing the White House of new terrorist attacks, which could negatively impact on Euro-Atlantic security. According to Haaretz, several times Israel warned the West about the upcoming terrorist attacks in European countries. General of the Joint Chiefs of Staff of the United States General Joseph Dunford highly appreciated the activities of Israeli intelligence in the prevention of terrorist attacks. "The espionage scandal" undermines the level of trust between the special services of the two states, which has been formed for decades.
Despite the fact that ISIS is a common enemy for the United States, Israel, and Russia, Kremlin is a mediated military-political opponent of Israel in the Middle East. Russia provides military support to the opponents of Israel, including the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad. Israel periodically fires infrastructure facilities, positions of Syrian military and militants close to them in response to provocations in the Golan Heights. The Russian Federation conducts military and technical cooperation with Iran, which does not recognize the existence of Israel and sponsors Hezbollah terrorist organization. Iran provides ballistic missiles to Lebanese terrorists. Terrorists of Hezbollah periodically bombard Israeli cities from the territory of southern Lebanon. Iranian Special Forces and Hezbollah fighters provide military support to the regime of Bashar Assad.
The espionage scandal might negatively affect the image of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Some Israeli journalists are critical of Donald Trump because he has not yet recognized the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem as an Israeli territory. The Israelis, who believe that the American president shared Israeli intelligence with the Kremlin, will criticize Netanyahu and his Likud party. If Trump's oversight is proved, the opposition parties like "Labor" of Yitzhak Herzog and “Kadima” of Tzipi Livni, will be able to increase the support resource in society. The opposition would speculate that Netanyahu is subjecting Israel to a threat by providing Trump with intelligence.
A blow to the prestige of the United States in the Middle East
From the point of view of American publications, Donald Trump betrayed the closest ally in the Middle East – Israel. Betrayal and inability to keep secrets is not just a misstep, but a shame that is trust and authority in the conservative Muslim countries of the Middle East. The current US president can simply stop trusting, despite the fact that the countries of the region, together with the European partners of the US-NATO, participate in the anti-terrorist operation against ISIS in Syria and Iraq. This concerns Turkey, which, before the conflict with Barack Obama, together with Israel was the US support in the Middle East. The other day Trump hosted Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Washington in the hope of creating the ground for establishing relations. Relations between Turkey and the US reached a boiling point after the Obama administration refused to extradite the theologian Fethullah Gülen, whom the Turkish authorities suspect of involvement in the organization of the military coup last summer.
During the meeting with Erdogan, Trump supported Turkey's desire to play the role of a leader in the settlement of the Syrian conflict, its activities in the fight against the terrorists of the ISIS and the Kurdistan Workers' Party. Earlier he congratulated Erdogan on the results of the referendum on changing the form of government and strengthening of the presidential power, which was condemned by the European partners of the United States. Erdogan is interested in improving relations with the United States. Turkey needs American support in the face of growing terrorist threat. The Turkish president expected to use the meeting as a way to reassess relations with the US and stressed the importance of cooperation in combating terrorism and developing trade and economic cooperation. It is difficult to judge how the "spy scandal" would affect the normalization of relations between the US and Turkey. Ankara probably has its own secrets from Russia, which supports the regime of Bashar Assad, which is unsuitable for Turkey.
It is not known which would be the level of confidence to the US among the countries of the Persian Gulf, which also oppose ISIS. Saudi Arabia, where Donald Trump is going to pay a visit, is conducting a military operation in Yemen, trying to change the course of the civil war in favor of government troops. The Yemeni military is opposed to Shiite Husit militants, who want to create a theocratic state in the country and are sponsored by Iran (Russia's regional partner). The countries of the Persian Gulf see a threat to their security on the part of Iran, which seeks to influence the political processes in the oil monarchies. Secular countries of the region rely on cooperation with the US in the field of security. The United States is supplying arms to the countries of the region. During his visit to Saudi Arabia, Donald Trump intends to conclude a package of contracts for the supply of weapons worth $ 100 million. A spy scandal, fueled in the American media, might force the Saudis to think about whether exchanging secret information with the current Republican team is beneficial.