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UK Will Continue Sharing Intel with Washington despite Trump’s Disclosures | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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US President Donald Trump and British Prime Minister Theresa May at the White House in January 2017. (AFP)

British Prime Minister Theresa May declared on Wednesday that decisions about what US President Donald Trump discusses with anybody that he has in the White House “is a matter for President Trump.”

She made her remarks in wake of the US leader’s disclosure of sensitive information with Russian officials in the White House last week.

May said the government has confidence in its relationship with the United States, and will continue to share intelligence with Britain’s most important defense and security ally.

Trump has defended his decision to discuss intelligence with the Russians, saying he had an “absolute right” to share “facts pertaining to terrorism and airline flight safety”.

May’s statements came during a press briefing ahead of Britain’s June 8 election, which polls show May is on course to win, and in which national security is seen as one of her political strengths. May is a former interior minister who spent six years in charge of the domestic security brief.

Trump has endured a week of tumult at the White House after he fired the head of the FBI and then discussed sensitive national security information about ISIS with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.

Meanwhile, a spokesman in Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office revealed that Trump and the premier have spoken by phone as controversy brewed over the president’s sharing of intelligence with Russia that came from Israel.

A spokesman in Netanyahu’s office confirmed the phone call took place on Tuesday afternoon but did not say who initiated it.

Trump is due to visit Israel next week.

“There was a call yesterday between the president and prime minister for about 20 minutes,” the spokesman said. “The only topic discussed was the upcoming visit.”

Israel meanwhile sought to contain fallout from Trump’s sharing of its intelligence with Russia, while not commenting directly on the move.

Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman lauded security ties between the United States and his country, saying it would continue to be “unprecedented” in scope.

But he made no mention of Trump divulging intelligence to Russia that a US administration official said had originally come from Israel.

A US administration official confirmed to AFP on condition of anonymity that the original intelligence came from Israel, which was initially reported by the New York Times.

Israeli intelligence experts are gravely concerned that Trump’s disclosures may have compromised an Israeli agent, but don’t expect any long-term consequences for intelligence cooperation.

Israeli officials have declined to confirm whether they were the source of the information Trump shared, but have been quick to say counter-terrorism coordination with the United States is strong.

Israeli intelligence experts said Israel had developed a deep network of human and signal intelligence across the region and it was plausible that it had managed to infiltrate ISIS as part of that long-running effort.

“Israeli intelligence agencies have shown that they can have such human sources,” said Aviv Oreg, former head of the Al-Qaeda and global desk in the army’s military intelligence department, who now runs a counter-terrorism consultancy.

“It would take a lot to put someone inside ISIS. If there is an agent, I’m sure it’s the only one. If we have really lost a human source over there, it’s a major loss and it will take years to regenerate another one,” he said.

“Israel will be furious about it,” he added, highlighting that it was likely to have implications for how Israel operates its human intelligence assets more broadly, and may make others unwilling to cooperate with it in the future.

At the same time, he said Israel understood that Trump, as president and commander-in-chief, had the authority to divulge the information, even if in doing so he had shown that he “has no experience in how to deal with intelligence.”