British intelligence spied on Israeli diplomats and firms in addition to its military, the French daily Le Monde reported on Wednesday, based on documents leaked by whistleblower Edward Snowden. In one of the files, Britain's GCHQ intelligence-gathering apparatus defined Israel as "a true threat" to the Middle East.
''The Israelis constitute a true threat to regional security, notably because of the country's position on the Iran issue," a leaked top secret document from 2009 said.
According to Le Monde, the UK Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) collected information on Israeli diplomats, including a person described by the newspaper as the second-highest ranking official in the Israeli foreign ministry. That person was not named. The British also spied on the Palestinian Authority, the report said.
Email correspondence belonging to the Israeli ambassadors to Nigeria and Kenya was also the subject of British intelligence-gathering efforts as was Ophir Optronics, a firm deemed to be tied to the Israeli defence establishment that specializes in fibre optics, and the Hebrew University of Jerusalem's Racah Institute of Physics.
According to Le Monde, the GCHQ kept track of the phones of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas as well as that of his two sons, Yasser and Tarek Abbas, on 9 December 2008.
Noting that these interceptions occurred three weeks before Israel's military offensive in Gaza in January 2009, the newspaper suggests they may have served to aid Israel to prepare for the operation.
From the end of 2008 through 2009 the British agency monitored communications among the PLO secretary general and numerous Palestinian delegations, in particular those in France, Belgium, Portugal, Pakistan, South Africa and Malaysia. It also spied on Israeli Arab lawmaker, Dr Ahmad Tibi, and former Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmed Qurei.
A 2008 note from the US National Security Agency, revealed in the Snowden archives, and cited on the American site The Intercept, described the Palestinian Authority's security forces as ''no threat to the United States or its allies … and these forces are frequently the best informed on violence in the region.''
Another NSA document from 18 April 2013 cited ''the great closeness of the NSA dating back to the 1980s with the Electronic Warfare Directorate, Jordan's technical secret services. The two cooperate on priority targets and the Jordanians provide a large portion of the names of individuals targeted by the NSA in the region.''
The Le Monde report followed a previous publication based on documents stolen by Snowden dealing with spying by US and British intelligence on Israeli military aircraft.
For 18 years, GCHQ and its American counterpart, the NSA, had collected drone transmissions after cracking the Israeli army's encryption for communication among fighter jets, drones and army bases.
The information was reported in January by The Intercept and the German newspaper, Der Spiegel.
Britain and the United States reportedly have used this access to monitor Israel Defense Forces operations in the Gaza Strip, watch for a potential strike on Iran and keep tabs on drone technology that Israel exports.
Snowden worked for US intelligence before publishing classified material in 2013 and fleeing to Russia.