Over the last few days, under separate sets of circumstances, I met a number of visiting officials from three foreign countries, including government officials, military officers and research experts -- all experienced and well versed in their respective fields and possessing rich backgrounds in international diplomacy and security.
Naturally, at every one of these meetings, the conversation touched on the National Security Agency spying on various world leaders, including the leaders of allied countries like Germany, Brazil and France. None of these foreign officials, some of them likely targets of American spying themselves, were overly concerned about the reports. As people who work in the field, it was obvious to them that spying is an integral part of the job -- everyone spies on everyone, everywhere. It is an all-you-can-gather spy buffet.
The problem is not the spying -- spying always existed and it always will. German Chancellor Angela Merkel reads a briefing of intelligence information every morning, and French President Francois Hollande gets a daily briefing as well. These briefings do not rely solely on information available in the press -- they include information procured by the best intelligence agencies. The same is true for the 33 other world leaders that the U.S. spied on (going by various reports).
The actual problem is that the Americans got caught, in broad daylight, red handed. The problem is that they were greedy, and were exposed by Edward Snowden. Modern technology can be used to intercept any message anywhere in the world. If, in the past, a spy had to physically connect to a phone line, and a person had to listen to the conversation, today computers are capable of intercepting any call, email or text message anywhere in the world, and there are algorithms that can analyze and screen the data therein based on relevant keywords.
The temptation is great. Everything (almost) is available for the taking, all you have to do is grab it. Here, ostensibly, is where a leader should come in and draw some boundaries. A leader should be able to decide which conversations involving allied countries should be intercepted and when it is best to shut off the computers and close your ears. Presumably, Merkel was not as upset about the spying as she was about the invasion of her privacy. It is also safe to assume that here in Israel, key figures are closely following the developments with the full knowledge that they, too, are targets of spying.
And still, Israel has not really been implicated in this scandal yet, and that is a good thing. Israel is on the cutting edge of technology, and most likely takes every precaution to protect itself from friend and foe alike. But in instances where the world is able to forgive the U.S., it won't be so quick to forgive Israel. Therefore, it is very likely that many here in Israel, like in the U.S., are praying that the floodgates that Edward Snowden opened will soon be closed again, before any more damage ensues. Not just on the diplomatic front, but also in the operational-intelligence arena.