What did the U.S. learn about the relationship between Ehud Olmert and Ehud Barak during Operation Cast Lead that it wouldn't have known without breaking into their email accounts? Another leak by American fugitive Edward Snowden published on Friday offers some insight. Perhaps the emails helped the U.S. formulate its stance on Israeli military action in the Gaza Strip, which was considered very controversial at the time.
Every few days new details on the surveillance scandal embarrassing the United States are coming to light. The Senate and Congress may choose to block the White House from conducting such widespread surveillance operations in the future, but it is doubtful a new law will halt the programs, which make George Orwell's "1984" look like child's play.
Exposure of these documents will not change the world overmuch. Even before Snowden's revelations, millions of people around the world just assumed America was always listening. Certainly listening in on Israel. Politicians spoke amongst themselves in a way that presumed an American "Big Brother" was watching. Some even partially surrendered to it, because they viewed the U.S. as the world's chosen policeman.
As a result, many politicians have exercised caution. Some were not careful enough because the desire to speak is greater than the will power to hold back. Still others did not care. Many acted as if the invasion of privacy was a decree from heaven that they must live with and sometimes work around. It is reasonable to assume that the more conscientious politicians even planted information intended to divert American surveillance.
The two Israeli leaders, for their part, may have staged meetings specifically designed to convince the spying Americans that Israel intended to attack Iran on its own.
Even if Capitol Hill chooses to block future surveillance of this kind, a new law will not change the reactions of those targeted. It's unlikely German Chancellor Angela Merkel will believe the U.S. has stopped monitoring her every move just because President Barack Obama stuttered an apology. And if the U.S. no longer targets her specifically, it might just shift its energies to her deputy, her rival or some other senior German officials.
Merkel may assume that the National Security Agency will likely continue eavesdropping on her, despite any congressional decision. Regardless, no senior official or major business executive would believe the U.S. would not continue what it already began.
And that's not all. Obviously other countries do what the U.S. does, but they have not been caught carrying out surveillance of this magnitude. They also lack the U.S.'s technological prowess.
Nevertheless, they will continue to improve. What America abandons, they will adopt. Is there anyone in Berlin, currently furious with the U.S., who believes Moscow isn't engaging in the exact same behavior? The situation resembles the debate over legalizing marijuana. It is already widespread, and hard to eradicate -- so why not legitimize international surveillance -- although not that of individual citizens. This would at least prevent friction among allies.