US won't allow Israelis visa-free entry amid increased spying on America
In a report by Newsweek, former congressional aides and CIA employees state that Israel’s espionage efforts in the United States date back decades – not only nabbing industrial secrets but also obtaining “key components” for nuclear bombs, according to former CIA national intelligence officer Paul Pillar.
“I don’t think anyone was surprised by these revelations,” a former congressional aide told the magazine. “But when you step back and hear…that there are no other countries taking advantage of our security relationship the way the Israelis are for espionage purposes, it is quite shocking.”
As Israel attempts to gain visa-free entry into the United States for its citizens, closed-door meetings with the House of Representatives’ House Judiciary and Foreign Affairs committees have begun to turn to the country’s spy activities. One congressional staffer told Newsweek that testimony by US counterspies regarding Israel’s behavior is “very sobering... alarming…even terrifying.”
Previously, the reasons for denying Israel the visa exemption it desires were based on other factors, such as its treatment of Arab Americans and US Palestinians looking to enter the country, or its lack of machine-readable passports. Israel has also been criticized for failing to report lost or stolen passports in a timely manner.
Now, however, the US intelligence community has begun raising concerns over espionage activities that greatly exceed that of any other American ally, such as Germany and Japan. Of course, the US National Security Agency has been criticized for eavesdropping on German Chancellor Angela Merkel, but classified briefings state Israel’s spy activity has “crossed red lines.”
“If we give them free rein to send people over here, how are we going to stop that?” a former congressional aide said to Newsweek. “They’re incredibly aggressive. They’re aggressive in all aspects of their relationship with the United States. Why would their intelligence relationship with us be any different?”
Currently, the US allows a visa exemption for 38 countries around the world. While Israel has lobbied hard to get its name on the list, aides to lawmakers said the country has not cooperated enough with the Department of Homeland Security to gain approval. Multiple aides said Israel has tried to rely on allies in Congress to push through its waiver request, so far without success.
Responding to the news that “a working group” has been created to move the process forward, several congressional aides dismissed the development – especially if Israel does little to halt its espionage activities.
“The Israelis haven’t done s**t to get themselves into the visa waiver program,” said a former aide who was involved in the issue. He added that it would be beneficial for Israelis to visit the US without visas, but only so far as they’re willing to resolve the concerns of the intelligence community.
“I’m sure it would spur investment and tourist dollars in our economy and so on and so forth,” the aide added. “But … They think that their friends in Congress can get them in, and that’s not the case. Congress can lower one or two of the barriers, but they can’t just legislate the Israelis in.”