The United States and Britain monitored secret sorties and communications by the Israeli Air Force in a hacking operation dating back to 1998, according to reports attributed to leaks by former US spy agency contractor, Edward Snowden.
Israel expressed its disappointment at the disclosures published on Friday, in at least two media outlets, which might further strain ties with Washington after years of feuding over strategies on Iran and the Palestinians.
Israel’s best-selling newspaper reported that the US National Security Agency that specialises in electronic surveillance and UK Government Communications Headquarters spied on Israeli Air Force missions against Gaza, Syria and Iran.
The spy operation, codenamed “Anarchist,” was run out of a base in Cyprus and targeted other states in the Middle East as well, the newspaper said.
An online publication in Israel that lists Snowden confidant Glenn Greenwald among its associates, ran a similar report, with what it said were hacked pictures of armed Israeli drones taken from cameras aboard the aircraft.
The newspaper also said that a German news-magazine, publishing on Saturdays, planned to run an article about Snowden’s leak.
Israel has neither confirmed nor denied that it had armed drones, although one of its senior military officers was quoted as acknowledging them in a secret US diplomatic cable from 2010 that was published by WikiLeaks.
The US embassy in Israel has not yet responded to a request for comment on the Snowden allegations.
A British embassy spokeswoman said that it did not comment on intelligence matters and there was no immediate response from the Foreign Office in London.
Israeli Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz, a member of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s security cabinet, disregarded the issue, but said that lessons would be learned.
"I do not think that this is the deepest kingdom of secrets, but it is certainly something that should not happen, which is unpleasant," Steinitz said.
"We will now have to look and consider changing the encryption, certainly," he added.
In recent months, with the Netanyahu government and Obama administration at loggerheads over US-led nuclear diplomacy with Iran there have been a series of high-profile media exposes alleging mutual espionage between the allies.
Israel said that it ended such missions since it ran US Navy analyst Jonathan Pollard as an agent in the 1980s.
Israel was “not surprised” by the hacking revealed in the latest Snowden leak, Steinitz said.
"We know that the Americans spy on the whole world, and also on us, also on their friends," Steinitz said.
"But still, it is disappointing, inter alia because, going back decades already, we have not spied nor collected intelligence nor hacked encryptions in the United States," he added.
The newspaper said that the revelations could hurt Israeli drone sales to Germany. Berlin may worry about the aircraft networks' security. However, Steinitz brushed off that possibility.
"Every country carries out its own encryption," Steinitz said.
On Jan. 12, Germany said that it would lease Heron TP drones from state-owned Israel Aerospace Industries.