Republican presidential candidate Ben Carson has chastised US President Barack Obama for treating Israel as “his real enemy,” following reports that the National Security Agency continued to keep senior Israeli officials under close watch.
“It is truly disgraceful that the Obama administration has spied on Prime Minister [Benjamin] Netanyahu, his colleagues and pro-Israel lawmakers in Congress,” the retired neurosurgeon said in a statement on Wednesday.
“Instead of focusing on deterring the Iran nuclear threat… President Obama has treated Israel, our staunch, democratic ally in the Middle East, as his real enemy,” Carson continued.
Obama announced two years ago that he would restrict eavesdropping on friendly heads of state after the world learned the long-secret US surveillance programs.
The president, however, privately decided to maintain the monitoring of certain allies, and topping the list was the Israeli premier, according to the Wall Street Journal.
The White House was particularly concerned that Israel might be monitoring the nuclear negotiations with Iran in order to derail efforts to reach an accord on Tehran’s nuclear program, US officials said.
The NSA’s dragnet also “snared” communications between Israeli officials and pro-Israel members of Congress and advocacy groups.
Carson said the surveillance practices proved that Obama was a president “that our enemies need not fear and our friends cannot trust.”
The GOP candidate also took a jab at the Democratic front-runner, Hillary Clinton, saying her track record on foreign policy made her “unfit to lead” the United States.
“No doubt President Obama’s former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton knew of the administration’s spying efforts on Israel,” he said. “It is shameful that she participated in undermining the US-Israel relationship.”
Top Congressional Democrats, however, dismissed the significance of the eavesdropping reports.
Rep. Eliot Engel, the ranking Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said he was “not surprised” to hear about reports of the US and Israel spying on each other.
“I assume that everything I say — someone is listening. I am careful that what I say in public is what I say in private,” Engel, a staunch supporter of Israel, told The Hill. “You just have to assume that when you’re a public person, what you say [could be monitored] … I don’t know what this really tells us.”